February 26, 2008
With Gilbert Arenas and Caron
Butler on the bench, it seems like a cop out thing to throw what feels
like a platitude out there - hell, it probably is a bit of a cop out,
but I gave up years ago - but I'll be a Turkish gravedigger if the
Washington Wizards aren't the hardest-working team in the NBA.
These guys really care. They're not out to pad their stats with 45 Gilberon Butnas points sitting on the pine, they're not giving up on the season or looking for excuses, and they're not working within the confines of an offensive system that is easy to pick up. And yet, night after night, the team tries to move its feet defensively and work to execute coach Eddie Jordan's offense.
And, when you think back ten years to a Wizards team that was underachieving even with a cadre of stars (Chris Webber, Rod Strickland, and Juwan Howard) on the court, it sort of creates the same warm and fuzzy feeling I got after finding out that Semi-Pro was going to be rated R, and not going to be some PG-13, "what the heck?"-fest.
That 1997-98 team only made a playoff run once Strickland sat out part of the season's final month and Chris Whitney led an early spring charge, but it was too little, and way the heck late. This year should be different. Arenas may or may not make it back this season, Butler will probably need a few weeks to round into shape when he does return, but this group plays too well together to miss out on the postseason.
Rookie Dominic McGuire (obviously
Irish) played solid defense on Chris Paul at times last night, Roger
Mason hit some tough perimeter looks, DeShawn Stevenson (33 points, and the game-winner) sustained his remarkable ascension
to the ranks of a three-point threat, and Antawn Jamison overcame a
horrible shooting night (3-16) to lunge for steals in the lane (Chris
Paul and David West combined for nine turnovers, so guess what play
Jamison had sussed out) and find a way to make a positive impact.
And that's what it's about, people. Read to achieve.
It's nice when, after taking the time to watch all these games, some line you utter to a flickering cathode tube ray in the first quarter of a contest (like, say, "you just have to weather the storm with the Pacers at home; they'll find a way to give up that lead") actually sustains and holds true for the rest of the battle.
It's a good feeling. It popped up later in the evening when that same cathode tube ray allowed me hear the Jimmy Vivino-led Max Weinberg 7 play this song as Flavor Flav strode onto the set, the first Steely Dan joint I can recall the 7 throwing out there in over 14 years of viewership.
The Pacers love to get out to that early lead, but they don't appear to relish a late lead so much. Some of the shots they take, I swear, you want to ask them if they're aware that it's a two-possession game with two minutes to play, and not the final minute of the first half. Indiana can put points on the board, but they're Warriors-lite (good scorers, streaky shooters), and not exactly made of iron and brass.
On the victor's side, how
can Jose Calderon average exactly 11 assists for every 40 minutes played
this season, and not muster a single one on Monday night?
(Sorcery. That's how. I'd
get into it further, but a Hawks/Spurs game deserves my attention.)
(Say, "sorcery. That's how" out loud. Pretty cool, eh?)
The San Antonio Spurs, a team filled with sometimes-there shooters and a creaky front-court rife with looks of perpetual bemusement, only scored five points in the opening quarter of this one.
The Atlanta Hawks should have been pleased. Should have. Should have, had the Hawks actually turned in an NBA-level first quarter of its own, and not thrown up but 16 points in retaliation.
As you'd expect, the Spurs
warmed up, literally and figuratively, while the Hawks struggled to
add points to their own pile, and ended up losing.
Both batches of wrongness, I gotta tell you, weren't that surprising. The Spurs just aren't natural scorers, they need Tim Duncan to have a bit of sweat on his brow should the perimeter youngsters (relatively speaking, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili) start off slow, and the always streaky (even in their primes) touch of Robert Horry, Damon Stoudamire, and Michael Finley might all decide to be bad-streaky at once.
Atlanta, on the other hand,
is a bit of a mess without a light at the end of the tunnel. Joe Johnson
appears to have solid his legs to the highest bidder back in December
of 2006, Mike Bibby is making Hawk fans pine for Speedy Claxton, Marvin
Williams is currently functioning as some sort of "Jared Jeffries,
with touch" amalgam, and Al Horford's a beast without a name.
Obviously, I'm not too high
on things in Atlanta right now. Luckily, somewhere, Lil John is.
Dirk's taking over, homies.
Since an embarrassing loss in Illadelph on February 11th, Nowitzki has averaged 31.5 points and 9.3 boards, and it's about damn time. Yo. The man was (with our endorsement, we submit) taking it easy for the season's first half in order to save some juice for the postseason, but he's been incredibly active off the ball and aggressive with the ball over the last 12 days.
Chicago lost this one early on with a series of moronic turnovers and shots, Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng (and, to a lesser extent, Ben Gordon) put the team in too big a hole to overcome in spite of a late surge led (offensively) by Drew Gooden (17 and 8 off the bench).
Gooden was good, but as someone who is now watching his game with red and black-tinted glasses, the man's off-ball defense is maddening. One botched rotation - that had nothing to do with not knowing Chicago's defensive "schemes," mind you - had Thabo Sefalosha muttering to himself in any one of three potential languages as the Bulls trudged back down the court after being scored on. Or, "upon." Either one works for me. And Jim Boylan, apparently.
Bit of a problem with these two.
A (rather light, I might add) Midwestern snowstorm turned the final three quarters of the Detroit win and the first three quarters of the Boston blowout into something that resembled scrambled porn, with the occasional glimpse of Flip Saunders' forehead. Not my ideal Monday, but that's what I get for having a dish that couldn't muster a signal through the horrors of a four-inch (at best) snow accumulation.
Off the boxscores alone, I think it's pretty impressive that Detroit held the Nuggets to 36 percent shooting, and that the Clippers never even made an act out of trying to care about this season.
So I leave it to you, dear reader, to fill me on what happened in the comments section.