A Look at the Wizards
Things are looking plenty bleak for the Wizards this year. They enter this game with a 9-33 record. Think of the number of games Portland has played so far this year. Now imagine 33 of those games had been losses. The pink, padded cells would be overflowing around here. Forget the "Fire Nate" posts, people would be calling for the disembowelment of everybody within a 100 mile radius of the Blazers' office. People would be writing in complaining that they do get the Comcast Sports Northwest channel.
Frankly speaking, the Gilbert Arenas injury blew a hole in the side of Washington's ship that's so big that nothing short of complete dry-docking and refitting is going to save it. It's not that they lack talent. Caron Butler is an All-Star-level small forward. Antawn Jamison has always known how to score in this league and will until the day he hangs up his sneakers. Point guard Mike James can put the ball through the hoop too. They have some interesting young talent as well. Nick Young is an explosive scoring guard who is starting to come into his own. He dumped 33 on the Knicks a couple weeks ago. Dominic McGuire is a well-built, athletic forward who at 6'9" can guard far smaller players. Center Andray Blatche is a thoroughbred who has emerged from Summer-League Wonder status this season to become a regular part of the rotation. At 6'11" he's quick and can jump. He's already topped 20 twice in the last week. DeShawn Stevenson has been injured but he also fits that athletic bill. Darius Songaila and Juan Dixon provide some veteran assistance off the bench. These aren't bad players. But when you put them together there's just no cohesion, not enough energy. It's like you took the recipes for split-pea soup, clam chowder, and that nice tomato-basil they serve down at the restaurant and mashed them all together into one Wonder Soup. The only Wonder about it is wondering how much you have to choke down.
The Wizards are brutal defensively, particularly from the perimeter. They contain opponents like Colonel Klink contained prisoners.
Interim Coach Ed Tapscott: Why did you just stand there while that guy got all the way to the hoop?!?
Antawn Jamison: I know noth-ing! Noth-ing!!!
Coach Tapscott: Next time do a better job!
Nicolas Batum: Oh Antawn...I baked some strudel for you!
Jamison: Strudel? No, I musn't! But it looks so delicious...
The Wizards allow opponents to shoot 47.6% from the field. Opponents attempt and make more three-pointers against them than against any team in the league. They're not stopping you outside at all and they're not really stopping you inside either. They're not a great transition defensive squad. It's bad.
Unfortunately in the absence of Arenas they're not a consistently good offensive team either. Jamison and Butler will get theirs most nights but everyone else is too young or too streaky to count on. They're in the bottom third of the league in overall field goal percentage, 29th in three-point percentage, 28th in free throw attempts, 29th in free throws made, bottom-third in free throw percentage. They have no consistent inside threat and settle for too many jumpers.
Washington does fairly well on the offensive boards, which occasionally can be their saving grace. Only Golden State and Sacramento are worse on the defensive boards, however. No defense and no rebounding means they don't get enough running opportunities to turn their scoring around. An athletic team like this should thrive in transition, but...
Washington's rare wins usually come because the opponent doesn't prosecute the offense aggressively, settling for jumpers and playing down to the Wizards' level. When that happens and when some of the supporting cast starts gaining confidence the engine finally turns over and you have a game on your hands. It's Portland's job to make sure the key never gets in the ignition tonight.
Keys to the Game
1. There are 100 ways to win this game but the smartest would be to simply jump out big in the first quarter. This is not something the Blazers have done lately. They would be foolish to toy with the Wizards or let them hang around. Bring fire, hustle, and energy from the opening tip and build a double-digit lead early. Then you can start playing around a little.
2. This would be the night to resurrect some of the three-point shooting. In the absence of center Brendan Haywood who, while not exactly a defensive stalwart, at least was experienced the Wizards really have trouble keeping people out of the middle. This means they usually have to collapse on penetration and help on serious post threats. That's going to leave some Blazers standing outside with all day to shoot. Just make them.
3. If you're going to point to one guy who could bowl over the Wizards and never give them a chance it's got to be Oden. The same reasons they have to collapse on the interior are the reasons he could cause such havoc. This is similar to the Milwaukee game except that Blatche and rookie JaVale McGee are way more athletic than their Milwaukee counterparts. Nonetheless Oden shouldn't allow that to annoy him when he's on offense nor should he feel pressure to chase them when he's on defense. Stay down low, call for the ball, and execute a couple simple moves from the post. They won't be able to handle the bulk. Let them shoot anywhere but right at the rim on defense. They won't be able to score enough to turn the tide. This game should be a free pass for Oden if he just takes his time and stays focused.
4. Move the ball against this team. The first avenue of attack is the dribble. You might find easy pickings in the lane if you attack. Failing that just flip it to the open guy off of that dribble. If you come down the court and take the first jumper available you're just being foolish.
5. Don't let the Wizards get too many points off of offensive rebounds. Even the scoring power of Jamison and Butler isn't as dangerous as them getting a double-digit boost because we weren't concentrating enough on securing the ball.
This is one of those games you just shouldn't lose. You need to find the right mixture of coming out loose enough that you play your game without making it a hard night and coming out focused enough that you take it seriously. We lost to Cleveland a couple nights ago. This game counts the same as that one. Win it and we're even.
Check out the Washington perspective at BulletsForever.
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