Game 72 Preview: Wizards vs. Blazers

The Wizards pay their annual visit to the Rose Garden without Fauxstradamus and his massive scoring predictions but they're working on a string of 9 wins in their last 12 games.  Their vanquished opponents include the Pistons, Magic, Cavaliers, Raptors, and Hornets, so it's not like they're riding an incredibly soft schedule either.

Despite Arenas being sidelined for at least another week with his knee recovery Washington has been buoyed by the return of Caron Butler.  The multi-purpose scorer is working on averages of 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists in his last 5 games.  He joins Antawn Jamison, who's pretty close to 28 points and 11 rebounds in that same stretch.  Even without Arenas that duo is plenty nasty.  After that they field a bunch of players who would go under the category of "Dangerous but not Steady".  Brendan Haywood can score and rebound some but isn't a great defender.  DeShawn Stevenson and Antonio Daniels can spark a bonfire but don't bring it every night.  Andray Blatche can be described in the exact same way.  He's just the extra-strength model.  Roger Mason...Darius Songalia...Dominic McGuire...there's talent there, but you wouldn't necessarily want these guys watching your back.

The nice thing about this incarnation of the Wizards is that they're playing and winning honestly.  Remember last year when they'd score 122 and give up 124?  Their defense was pitiful.  This year they've slowed down a little and are paying more attention...or at least requiring more accountability.  That's not to say they're a defensive powerhouse, but their 45.6% field goal percentage allowed ranks them 15th in the league and is a lot closer to the Orlandos and New Jerseys of the world than the Memphises and Miamis.  Their points allowed ranks at 11th, also a huge improvement.  Though they are also shooting and scoring at a less frantic rate their point differential has gone up.  The overall result is that this team can actually beat you in a high or low scoring game rather than having to gimmick their way to 110 to win.  If G-Bert can pick up on the vibe and become a strong contributor they could become dangerous in the East.

As you might expect it's rather hard to pin down definitive trends for a team that's been so injury-riddled.  In general, though, they still need to shoot a pretty high percentage to win.  In their last dozen games they are 3-3 when held under 100 points, which accounts for all of their losses.  You want to play solid defense, limit them to one shot (which means boxing out Jamison and Haywood every play), and depend on the cracks in their defense to give you enough daylight to pull it out.  If you let them run away with the game they certainly will, however.  This could be an exciting back-and-forth affair, but it could also be a blow-out against us.

What I'd Like To See

There are a lot of things I could say, but after last night's gag-fest what matters most is that we see angry Blazers.  Washington isn't the type of team to withstand a barrage of passion.  They will let you prove your point.  They thrive when you ease up or don't care.  We're going to see a couple of guys who are very good at scoring but who probably won't lead their team to victory on their own.  That kind of team can usually be overcome by a committed, concerted effort, as it overwhelms the support players.  If we let a couple of their 3rd-8th guys have season-high nights, if we let them make the game look easy, we're in trouble.  Much like the Hawks they have enough athleticism to pack us in a box and send us home to mama.  Play smarter, harder, and more together and it won't matter.  Let the shark off the hook, though, and you're going to pay.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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