September 20, 2019

Washington Wizards Game 81 Wrap: Wizards falter against Nets’ bench

The Brooklyn Nets (48-33) rested four of their five starters Monday night, yet the Washing Wizards (29-52) managed to come up short with a 106-101 loss at the Barclays Center.

John Wall topped the Wizards’ leaderboard with a mere 18 points. Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Cartier Martin and Garrett Temple each recorded double-digit points for Washington, yet Andray Blatche – of all people – pushed the Nets ahead with his 20 points and 12 rebounds.

Washington even shot 53.2% from the field – compared with the Nets’ 46.7% – and went 15-for-20 from the free throw line. Nevertheless, the numbers should have indicated the Wizards 30th win of the season given the fact that Reggie Evans, Brook Lopez, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Keith Bogans and Jerry Stackhouse all served as spectators from Brooklyn’s bench.

However, the Wizards looked sloppy, turning the ball over 20 times to hand Brooklyn key opportunities, particularly in the second half.

Washington started things off on the right foot in the first quarter. Emeka Okafor slammed one in just over three minutes into the game and Martin drilled a three to help Washington to a 16-7 lead.

Martin followed up with another just minutes later to give the Wizards a 22-9 boost and, with the help of Temple’s and Seraphin’s jumpers in the final two minutes of the quarter, Washington rode a 13-point lead into the second, up 34-21.

But, the Wizards showed signs of wear and tear in the second quarter, thanks in part to Brooklyn’s Kris Humphries, who also recorded 20 points on the night.

A.J. Price and Jan Vesely each turned the ball over in the first two minutes of the quarter, redeeming themselves on a joint play to provide Vesely with a basket to keep Washington in front by 12. Unfortunately for Washington, they didn’t do much more and with eight minutes remaining before the half, the Wizards sparked a five-minute dry spell in which only Chris Singleton and Vesely added baskets to Wall’s two free throws.

Vesely made another two-point shot with 2:39 remaining and both Temple and Seraphin quickly followed with baskets of their own but Washington closed out the half with just a 56-50 lead.

The Wizards held a nine-point lead as late as 9:45 into the third, but Blatche and Humphries helped pull Brooklyn back within four, trailing just 77-73 into the final 12 minutes of play.

Washington’s free throws helped keep the Nets in their rearview mirror until Tornike Shengelia followed Kris Joseph’s two free throws with a driving layup to give Brooklyn a 95-94 lead with 4:56 left to play.

Booker’s basket just seconds later put Washington back on top, 96-95, but the Wizards handed over one too many foul shots before Mirza Teletovic sunk a three to make it 101-98 Nets.

Martin’s three for the Wizards tied things up 101-all with 1:43 remaining, but Seraphin’s bad pass with 1:14 remaining helped Blatche and the Nets to a go-ahead layup. Tyshawn Taylor’s 26-footer provided the icing for the cake as the Nets shut down the Wizards by the final score of 106-101.

Washington Wizards Game 49 Wrap: Wizards bear down on Brooklyn in Beal’s return

The Washington Wizards (14-35) shut down the Brooklyn Nets (29-21) Friday night at the Verizon Center in an 89-74 win that showcased what the team has believed in – and many have doubted – since the beginning of the season.

They may be far from playoff contention, but the Wizards demonstrated for all what good health and great speed can produce against a team that has more than doubled Washington’s win column this season. [Read more…]

Washington Wizards Game Wrap 31: Wizards Suffer Heartbreak in 115-113 Double Overtime Loss to Nets

The Washington Wizards (4-27) showed reslience and determination Friday night against the Brooklyn Nets (18-15), but they lacked the endurance to power through an additional 10 minutes of play as they fell 115-113 in an intense double-overtime matchup.

Heartache is no stranger to Washington. Prior to Friday night’s battle, the Wizards fell by one possession in five of this season’s matchups – including a double overtime loss to the Charlotte Bobcats on Nov. 24 and an overtime loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 21.

And yet, this one topped them all.

“How many times have we been here?” Wizards head coach Randy Wittman exclaimed after the game. “I’ve lost count.”

Whether it was Andray Blatche’s return to the Verizon Center, Bradley Beal’s monster slam in the fourth quarter, Nene’s heroics to send the game into the first overtime or Beal’s buzzer-beater three-pointer to send the game into double overtime, the crowd was riled up as everyone seemed to believe the Wizards had this one in the bag.

Sure, the inexplicable chants of “RGIII” erupted. After several of the Wizards voiced their Super Bowl picks via a video message on the jumbotron between quarters, the crowd of 16,006 erupted into “Hail to the Redskins” even after the players returned to the court.

But, by the end of the night, something happened at the Phone Booth that has not happened much in the past few months. Fans were on their feet, high-fiving one another and booing the visiting team rather than their own guys who are riding a four-game losing streak yet again. The chants of “Let’s go Wizards!” and “De-fense!” reached a volume far beyond the celebratory cheers when MarShon Brooks’ missed free throws awarded fans with free Chic-fil-a.

For the first time in too many Fridays to count, magic was in the air at the Verizon Center and the Wizards seemed on pace to give fans a reason to go home smiling.

To start, Nene hit the ground running by notching eight of the Wizards’ first 15 points of the game to give Washington an early lead against the Nets. By the end of the quarter, the Wizards had a 10-point lead and tallied 30 points in the first 12 minutes – tying their season-high for the quarter, set against the Miami Heat on Dec. 4.

Although he did not attempt a shot in the entire first quarter, Jordan Crawford went 5-for-6 shooting and posted 13 points towards the Wizards’ 55-53 lead at the half.

Despite having led by as many as 14 points in the first half, the Wizards made it evident by the end of the third quarter that they would remain neck-and-neck with the Nets for the remainder of the game.

Before Wizards fans could cry “Same old, same old,” Bradley Beal brought the crowd to its loudest volume yet with a monster slam over Brooks with 6:15 remaining.

With just over a minute left in regulation, Crawford’s jumper tied the game at 91 apiece before Brook Lopez – who posted 27 points and 13 assists by the end of the night – found the net in time to put Brooklyn up 93-91 with only three seconds left.

Then, the Wizards looked to Nene.

With help from Garrett Temple, Nene weaved through traffic and sunk a nine-footer to send the game into overtime and to ignite roars from the crowd.

Everything seemed set in stone for the Wizards once Martell Webster sunk two free throws to give Washington an eight-point lead with less than 1:30 remaining in overtime.

That is, until Keith Bogans sunk a three-pointer, Gerald Wallace responded with two free throws of his own and Deron Williams made a driving layup to put the Nets right back in the Wizards’ rearview mirror, trailing 101-100.

Lopez then drew a foul off Nene and sunk both of his free throws, and Emeka Okafor fouled on Williams with just three seconds on the clock, allowing the Nets to take a 104-101 lead.

Fans began packing their things – some even headed to the concourse – when Wittman decided to call upon Beal for the long-shot.

Crawford passed to Beal who had barely enough time to get the ball out of his hands, yet his 27-footer found the net in time to send the game into the second overtime.

“Bradley kept us alive when we should’ve been dead and we should’ve never been dead to begin with,” Wittman said. “The thing that’s disturbing is that we do the same mistake over and over again as you’re closing the game out. When a guy’s doubled, you have to move the ball.”

Aside from Webster’s two points to start the second overtime, the Wizards trailed throughout the period, thanks to Wallace’s layup and Bogans’s jumper. While the Wizards managed game-changing stops and seemed to avoid getting jammed by the Nets’ defense throughout most of the game, they simply ran out of gas – or magic – in the final overtime as they finally fell 115-113.

With the loss, the Wizards are now 0-5 in overtime games and just 3-13 overall at the Verizon Center. They will once again have their work cut out for them as they take on the Heat in Miami Sunday night at 6:00 p.m. ET.

Washington Wizards use amnesty clause on Andray Blatche

The Washington Wizards removed $23 million off their salary cap Tuesday, waiving forward Andray Blache under the NBA’s amnesty clause. Bltache, 25,  averaged 9.9 points and 5.4 rebounds over seven seasons with the Wizards. A second round draft pick in 2005, Blatche has been much-maligned in the D.C. media for on- and off-court transgressions over the course of his career with the Wizards.

Blatche’s history of transgressions is as well-documented as it is entertaining in its own knuckleheaded way. Once heralded as one of the Wizards building blocks by owner Ted Leonsis, Blatche now finds himself as a free agent able to seek employment elsewhere. Former teammates JaVale McGee and Nick Young, players that also had their share of foibles, have seen their stock rise after departing D.C.

Blatche entered last season as one of the team’s revolving captains, prompting his now infamous pre-game speech on opening night, but the big forward played in just 26 games, averaging 8.5 points. He fought through a calf injury before being sent home from the team for lack of conditioning.

Washington Wizards shake things up, swap McGee and Young for Nuggets Nene

In a major shakeup unique to most NBA teams the Washington Wizards have traded two starters, Nick Young and JaVale McGee, receiving Denver Nuggets’ Nene Hilario in the exchange: he of the five year, $67 million contract. The Wizards sent Young to the Clippers, while McGee and injured center Ronny Turiaf are on their way to Denver. The Wiz also bring in the Los Angeles Clippers’ Brian Cook and the Hornets 2015 second round pick.

In giving away Young the Wizards lose a potential 20 point per game scorer…for the next 25 games. In sending McGee to Denver they’ve lost a highlight real defender and spectacular dunker…for the next 25 games.

While you certainly could fault the Wizards for not already signing Young and McGee to long term deals, it is fairly clear this was the best move for the team as constructed. Neither player was certain to be a Wizard next season and, for all intents and purposes, both could still return to the Wizards next fall.

With the second worst record in the NBA the Wizards season was going to be, at best, a moral victory. By jettisoning two expiring contracts they acquired a skilled and experienced veteran who they own the rights to for four more seasons.

Just months ago Nene was letting the ink dry on a five year, $67 million deal. Suddenly there is no fear in Oz of being unable to sign any accomplished contributor in free agency and spending another season as a league laughingstock. They get a savvy big man who should flourish against diminished Eastern Conference competition and only lose the right to match an $11 million per season offer for McGee this summer.

And unfortunately that was the reality for the Wizards: both players might leave for nothing in the offseason, and other free agents around the league had little interest in coming to a bottom feeder with little established talent.

And while I’ve been harsh on Ernie Grunfeld in the past, I had to laugh as I watched the midnight SportsCenter. This is exactly what I would have wanted him to do.

Nene has some injury concerns, to be fair. But the past several seasons he’s been as healthy as can be expected of most centers, and brings a welcome attitude to a locker room yearning for more credible veteran leadership.

Brian Cook? Gone after the season with an expiring contract, but in the meantime gives the Wizards a stretch four that can open up the lane for Wall to drive to the hole and Nene and Trevor Booker to operate out of the post. The Clippers second round pick in an upcoming draft? An opportunity to turn a standard second round pick into a first rounder when packaged with one of their four second rounders in the upcoming two drafts.

And while it pains me to see Ronny Turiaf leave without more Wizards game tape (though if he is waived by the Nuggets as expected he could conceivably return as well), he was ultimately another expiring contract for the offseason. Depending on whether the Wizards decide to use their Amnesty waiver on one of the Wizards current employees (“Blatche or Lewis?” is the amnesty version of “Oden or Durant?”), the Wizards could still afford to sign a top tier free agent in the offseason after collecting a top six pick in the draft.

If Wall makes The Leap next season, Nene returns to the production levels of his last three years and the Wizards can hit a home run on this year’s top selection, they are a signing or two away from contending for the playoffs. It may seem like a lot of “ifs”, but it is what we all knew to expect—a project that will take another few years to develop.

And, in some sign of divine providence, Wall showed how close he is to making that jump. He ended his night against the New Orleans Hornets with 26 points and 12 assists and three steals on 11-for-16 shooting, leading his team to an impressive 99-89 road win with a depleted lineup.

With another building block locked up for several more seasons, the Wizards get a competent two way center who still figures to be in the thick of his productive seasons—ones that happen to coincide with the Wizards rights to Wall. Depending on his motivation and injury status going forward, they also have “Nene Hilario’s Expiring Contract” to wield in 2015.

For Wizards fans, the purging of two frustrating talents will bring some measure of peace to the roster. And, if the team decides to go in a different direction when the draft approaches this June, they still have the cap space to bring them back to the Verizon Center next fall.

Wizards Mid-Season Manifesto, Part Two: Into the Offseason

This is the second installment of a two-part column chronicling staff writer Nathan Hamme’s obsession with building a better Washington Wizards team.

Draft post players and shooters.

You can’t stress enough how important this draft is to the Wizards future. They’ve been in the top half of the lottery three consecutive seasons, and returning there for a fourth seems likely. Fans won’t accept if it happens a fifth time, and I’d feel more comfortable with an evaluator like Pritchard at the helm this year.

At the top of the draft there are several players who could help the team to varying degrees next season. The Wizards will certainly hope lightning strikes twice and they end up with the number one pick and Anthony Davis.  A freshman power forward with incredible shot blocking ability (NCAA best 4.8 per game) as well as a great motor and basketball IQ, who’s been called the most polished defensive big man to come out of college since Tim Duncan. He’s the kind of low risk, low-post, high upside, high character guys that would be a perfect addition to the Wizards.

PF/C Andre Drummond may ultimately have the highest upside, but at only 18 and not yet dominating on a struggling UConn team he comes with some risk. His size (6’10”, 270) and post presence are something the Wizards could really use, and he would be an outstanding consolation prize if he decides to declare—and his interestingly timed leap to college this summer suggests he will. Unfortunately this is not the no-brainer pick it seemed before the season, as Drummond has some developing to do.

The next tier consists of more known commodities: Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, Thomas Robinson and Jeremy Lamb. Robinson is a DC native whose maturity, rebounding and post play make him a personal favorite. Sullinger has drawn comparisons as varied as Kevin Love and Michael Sweetney, but he’d be another quality rebounder and big body for a rather milquetoast Wizards front court. Barnes and Lamb are both very talented scorers whose viability depends largely on what the team decides to do with Nick Young. They would both be quality outside shooters that could help take some pressure off of John Wall, with Barnes probably the pick should they decide to go for perimeter scoring.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had been rising up boards but is apparently not going to declare for this year’s draft. Bradley Beal is another name to watch for the Wizards depending on how many of these underclassmen decide to stay in school.

I expect the Wizards will try to acquire another pick before this year’s deep draft, but moving up might be just as prudent. In addition to their own second rounder they have Dallas’ (projected in the low 50’s) from the Ronny Turiaf salary dump. They also have two in next year’s draft, and given the number of projects and reserves on the roster it’s probably time to turn quantity into quality. Trading two or three of those second round picks might move them into the first round.

Players like Arnett Moultrie, John Henson, Fab Melo, Terrance Jones, Perry Jones and Doron Lamb may be available in the mid-late first round and have significant upside. If the Wizards choose to stay put, the early second round features players like Kevin Jones, Jeffery Taylor, Augusto Lima and Virginia’s Mike Scott. Jae Crowder is a sleeper pick who may not even be taken on draft day, but his basketball IQ, toughness, defensive motor and three point shooting are things the Wizards covet—could he be Marquette’s next Wes Matthews.

Use the Qualifying Offer but make an overture.

Questions still surround what to do with JaVale McGee after the season when he likely becomes a Restricted Free Agent. Centers are at a premium in today’s NBA—even mercurial and inconsistent ones.

Which is why nobody should be surprised if McGee ends up with a $10 million a year deal at the end of the summer. But heck, nobody would have been surprised if Nick Young was offered a $7 million a year last fall. Is it also possible that this season will end and teams will be wary of McGee’s unpredictable play, just as they were with Young in the shadow of the CBA negotiations?

McGee has not shown that he’s worthy of the deal DeAndre Jordan signed in December (4 years, $43 million), or Brendan Haywood was granted from the Wizards before him (6 years, $55 milllion). Yet it’s the kind of money he’s likely to expect, and if you look at stats alone he’s not the least bit crazy.

McGee averages more points, assists and blocks than Jordan in fewer minutes. He has an almost identical rebound rate, and astonishingly is a better free throw shooter (48.5% vs. 48.1%). McGee’s PER is significantly higher despite Jordan having one of the highest FG percentages in the league. But the main difference offensively is what’s expected of the two centers. Jordan takes five shots a game, McGee almost 10. McGee does not have the benefit of an offensively oriented power forward to take the burden of scoring down low, and gets the ball in the post multiple times a game—as opposed to solely on alley-oops.

Unfortunately his bone headed play count (turnovers + goaltending violations + missed box outs) largely invalidate McGee’s efforts as a shot blocker, and his advanced statistics show opposing centers score and rebound well against him. Jordan is a far more polished defender and rebounds well even with another elite rebounder in his front court. Since Jordan can concentrate on what he’s good at he is regarded as a solid contributor for a contending team.

Hopefully McGee’s reel of lowlights will be enough to dissuade teams from making an offer calibrated on statistics alone. The Wizards should give him his Qualifying Offer, let him spend a couple weeks on the open market, then make him make a decision on a 4 year, $36 million contract. After all, he’s 24 year old true center with very little history of injury—he might just need some seasoning and the right coaching staff to blossom. If he’s given a near-max offer by someone else, the Wizards can move on to Omer Asik and Roy Hibbert, both of whom will be on the radar for teams looking for a center and may demand a similar bounty. Regardless, the team has one true center and is a must have position for any team who wants to succeed.

Wait until the summer to shop Andray Blatche.

Bottom line: ‘Dray is a sunk cost this season. He’s not lived up to his deal, even if he’s put up some impressive stats over the years, and isn’t scheduled to come off the payroll until 2015. The Wizards will be lucky to get another equally unpalatable contract in exchange for him this season—with the team’s interest in Tyrus Thomas being a prime example.

But, as Wizards fans have learned over numerous false prognostications about Blatche’s corner-turning, he’s always seems most appealing in the spring and summer—either putting up empty stats or not around to put his foot in his mouth. If Charlotte agrees to sending Thomas or teammate Boris Diaw it will happen immediately. Unfortunately Blatche’s stock hasn’t been lower in years.

In the broader perspective, however, his deal is not really so unpalatable. He’s made only $2-3 million over the mid-level exception for the duration of the contract, and has a unique skill set that could be more impactful in a reserve role on a contender. A more veteran team may convince themselves to gamble on the big man’s potential, so waiting until the cream of the crop is off the market might be the best marketing they can hope for.

Because Blatche is seen as so toxic in the locker room the Wizards have openly shopped him and destroyed any semblance of leverage in the situation. If a deal can’t be struck that gives some type of return on investment the team would be wise to take a wait-and-see approach instead of pushing the panic button. With Trevor Booker playing increasingly well lately at both power forward and center, and numerous other talented youngsters waiting in the wings, it is still something that should be addressed before next season.

Be a player in free agency—even if you can’t sign your targets.

The players mentioned in the trade deadline section may also rightfully apply here. But with Eric Gordon and others likely entering the market in some capacity over the summer the Wizards will need to act the part of a desirable team.

This means opening the pocket book, even doing it a bit more than others, while being as risk averse as possible. Don’t give a lot of years to a guy with an extensive injury history, and don’t be afraid to give a guy the contract he wants with incentives that make it worth his while.

Gordon may fit into both categories. He’s missed almost a season and a half in his short career due to injury, but also stands to be the prize of the free agent market after the Dwight Howard/Deron Williams situation shakes out. While I love his grit and ability, he’s likely in line for a four year deal in the $50 million range—while entirely shifting the evaluation of the Chris Paul trade. But his injury history makes him a risky proposition, and one I don’t expect, or recommend, that the Wizards pursue.

With no other candidates for maximum contracts the Wizards should start looking at second-tier free agents from the outset. While Orlando is not likely to give him up without a fight, Ryan Anderson has proven himself a unique commodity worthy of a four year, $32 million deal. With all the Dwight Howard drama going on how much can they afford to dedicate to Anderson?

The Grizzlies may give O.J. Mayo his $7.3 million qualifying offer, but would they match if the Wizards went four years $34 million for the talented guard? Ultimately the Wizards positional targets will depend on who is selected in the draft, but the need to add known and talented commodities is paramount.

Then there are mid-level exception targets. Robin Lopez has a $4.0 qualifying offer, but might be attainable at the MLE. Brandon Rush is turning into a knock down three point shooter and has a mere $4.3 million QO. Ersan Ilyasova has been a revelation for Milwaukee, both on the boards and as a long range shooter, and will get a raise in free agency—although if he continues his stellar play it may be a big raise.

As near-minimum salary options, Ian Mahimi, Reggie Evans, Hamed Haddadi and Jamaal Magloire could all help the Wizards in different capacities. Let’s face it—not everyone on the team can be on a rookie salary scale, getting useful pieces with minimum-level contracts can be great value. And since upper-echelon veterans are unlikely to covet a stint in DC, the team must see what still productive veterans are still available.

Use Amnesty on Rashard Lewis and save $10+ million.

If Lewis is waived this off-season he is now officially due only $13.7 million of his $22.7 million deal. Using Amnesty should allow the Wizards to take advantage of that opt out while giving themselves about over $30 million in cap space—a pertinent move dependent on whether they’re able to use much of it. And while Rashard’s contract expires after next season and could be seen as a valuable trade asset it requires that the Wizards not cut the veteran and reap those $10 million in savings–something that only makes sense if they’re unable to lure any free agents in the off-season, though that is entirely possible.

The alternative path would involve using Amnesty on Blatche, who has a combined $23 million due over the next three seasons. If they also choose to waive Lewis this option still leaves the Wiz nearly $30 million in  cap room. That’s plenty of money to build around John Wall, Trevor Booker, and whoever remains after an active trade deadline and off-season.

While I don’t advocate locking up three high priced free agents at once, there is no question the Wizards need to spend some of their money to start fielding a merely competitive team. With a little draft lottery luck they can start seeing drastic improvement by the end of next season.

WIZARDS: Washington Wizards Partner with Special Olympics

Group photo (Photo Courtesy of Washington Wizards)

Wizards Girls (Photo Courtesy of Washington Wizards)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In support of the Special Olympics’ fourth annual “Spread the Word to End the Word” awareness day, Washington Wizards players Andray Blatche, Jordan Crawford, Rashard Lewis and Nick Young attended a basketball game featuring athletes from Special Olympics Unified basketball teams on Tuesday, March 6, at St. Coletta of Greater Washington Gynamsium. Blatche and Lewis served as celebrity coaches while Crawford and Young served as referees. The Wizard Girls, G-Man and the Secret Service Dunkers were also be in attendance and perform at halftime.

Fans attending the Wizards game against the Lakers on March 7 were encouraged to sign a banner pledging their commitment to “Spread the Word to End the Word.” The banner, which will also be signed by the entire Wizards team, will be presented to St. Coletta of Greater Washington.

The Washington Wizards are committed to the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and will focus on the following five pillars to maximize its impact on the community:  education and scholarship, hunger and homelessness, military and veteran’s affairs, pediatric health and fitness and youth basketball.

For more information on how to get involved with Special Olympics in Washington D.C., please visit http://www.specialolympicsdc.org/

Spread the Word to End the Word is an ongoing effort by Special Olympics, Best Buddies and their supporters to raise the consciousness of society about the dehumanizing and hurtful effects of the word “retard(ed)” and encourage people to pledge to stop using the R-word. 

Special Olympics Unified Sports Program helps raise the consciousness of society about how people with intellectual disabilities should be accepted by all.  Special Olympics athletes with intellectual disabilities are paired as teammates alongside athletes without intellectual disabilities to foster an environment of acceptance for all.  The athletes with and without disabilities playing as teammates at Coletta school will demonstrate why it is important to take the R-word pledge.

The campaign, created by youth, is intended to engage schools organizations and communities to rally and pledge their support at www.r-word.org and to promote the inclusion and acceptance of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

How are the Wizards progressing? Revisiting our preseason projections

Before the holidays I committed to writing a preview of the Wizards 2011-12 season. I called it “a paper-trail long enough to hang myself with” at seasons end, and it’s time to see how that process has progressed.

Here’s a Bullet-by-Bullet look at my predictions, along with a bit of “Perception vs. Reality” based on some, you know, actual empirical evidence:

  1. Perception: They will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year. Reality: that was a gimmie. The Wizards were the NBA’s last winless team, so dreams of a playoff birth were scuttled early. Unless the Wizards second half can match Miami and OKC’s first, the team will again be lottery bound—which isn’t such a bad thing for this team. And while this doesn’t seem like going out on much of a limb now, there were definite whispers in the off-season that the team culture might just have changed enough to sneak into the playoffs. It certainly won’t be this year, and the level of difficulty so far this season portends that it might not be next year either.
  2. Perception: The team will have a better winning percentage than last season. Reality: Not so fast. Right now the Wizards are winning only 21% of their games, compared to 28% last season. The team came on down the stretch last year, and if they can slightly improve on their pace post-Saunders (5-14 thus far) they may be capable of making it. Winning a third of their contests appears overly optimistic, as the Wiz would have to go 15-18 down the stretch to prove me right–or at least 12-21 to prove me technically-not-totally wrong.
  3. Perception: The Wizards won’t have any All-Stars. Reality: Spot on. Some fans had high hopes for John Wall this season, but as I mentioned in the preview he has some tough competition in the East. Rajon Rondo replaced Joe Johnson in the mid-season contest, so in a roundabout way that prediction was spot on. More generally, the lack of a truly breakout campaign from any of the Wizards youth meant a lack of invites—except, of course, for Wall and the Skills Challenge <sigh>.
  4. Perception: The team will be active at the trade deadline. Reality: TBD. This is the one that matters most to the Wizards now, but is also the only one we cannot yet evaluate. Given their poor start, I imagine this will be as important as ever.
  5. Perception: The ‘Zards will creep up to fourth place in the Southeast Division. Reality: So far so bad? Charlotte’s abysmal season has begun to overshadow the Wizards peerlessly pathetic start, so this prediction appears on track. The Bobcats, however, have suffered injuries to some of their…how should I say…better players, and still have plenty of time to leapfrog the Wiz in the standings. Neither team has much to brag about at this juncture.
  6. Perception: You’ll see a whole lot of uneven performances. Reality: Unfortunate reality. While the Wizards have not beaten the Hawks, Magic or Celtics and have beaten the Raptors twice already this season, the prediction was valid. They’ve lost to the Raptors, Nets and Kings while also beating the Thunder and Trailblazers. While five of their seven wins came against teams with the five worst records in the NBA, the Wizards have certainly been a game-by-game, and even quarter by quarter, proposition.
  7. Perception: Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee will each average career highs in rebounds. Reality: Too much to ask from both front court mates. Blatche is averaging only 7.1 boards a game, down from last year’s career high of 8.3. McGee is up to 8.8 from last year’s high of 8.0, and has shown marginal improvement in his positioning. Both players have actually increased their rebound rate—the number they collect per minute—but sadly that does not excuse from likely failure in two of the three measures of this prediction (season total, per game, per minute). Blatche has missed half the team’s games, and while McGee held up his end of the bargain it will take a herculean effort from a healthy ‘Dray down the stretch to correct his per game average.
  8. Perception: Nick Young will flirt with 20 points per game. Reality: flirtatious advances rebuffed so far. Young’s actually down a tick from last season’s career high, averaging “only” 17.2 a contest. He’s upped that to 18.4 in February, but his true shooting percentage is at a career low 51% (he shot 54% last season). Otherwise, his statistics are startlingly similar to his ones from the previous season, something the Wiz didn’t want to see from a guy finally getting his “chance” as a starter. The abbreviated preseason and Young’s corresponding contract issues have contributed, but the fact remains Young has been more productive on a per minute basis coming off the bench these past two seasons—albeit this year in a limited sample size. What affect that has on contract negotiations this summer is yet to be seen.
  9. Perception: Shelvin Mack will be the back-up point guard by the end of the season. Reality: Didn’t even take that long. Mack has already become the regular first-in for Wall, though Jordan Crawford still gets more minutes playing as a combo guard over the course of the game. That was to be expected, I think, but Mack’s ability to run an NBA offense has been a pleasant surprise. At times he’s seemed better prepared running sets than Wall, and he’s not nearly as turnover prone as his speedy counterpart (2.4 per 48 minutes to Wall’s 5.4). He’s also slowly improving his shooting percentage month over month, so while he doesn’t have the tantalizing upside, he’s proving himself capable as a NBA backup.
  10. Perception: Trevor Booker will have as many memorable dunks as Jan Vesely. Reality: Win by default. The thing is…there just haven’t been many memorable Vesely throw downs this season. He has showcased his motor, size and leaping ability numerous times this year on the defensive end—those are all real. But Vesely is making a pretty dramatic transition to NBA ball, and while he was billed as one of the draft’s more “NBA ready” prospects he’s also getting sporadic minutes in a crowded forward rotation. Trevor Booker, on the other hand, has continued to impress after some quality appearances last season. He’s got some of the most electric dunks and blocks in the game, is an above average rebounder for his size, and is tenacious on the defensive end. He sports the 3rd best PER on the team, and is posting 10 points (55% FG), seven boards, a block and a steal a game in February.
  11. Perception: The Wizards most improved player will be…Andray Blatche. Reality: Not in this world, apparently. This one was doomed by the first post-game press conference. After blowing a big lead against the Nets, ‘Dray decried the lack of touches in the post…and then went to Twitter to “clarify” his comments—which, of course, always ends well. The ensuing media frenzy turned a demoralizing loss into an even more distracting situation, and Blatche has never been viewed the same by Wiz fans. 90% would probably trade him for a can of Campbell’s soup right now. The frequent booing he hears in the Verizon Center can’t make palatable motivation for the six year veteran—that is, when he’s actually on the court. While AB has been nicked up all season and missed half of the team’s games, his biggest problem has been his shooting efficiency, which dropped to 42% from 50% last season. His rebound rate is actually up, and his turnover and usage rates are down, so not all news is bad news. Who knows how long he’ll be around, but he certainly “need it n the post ” for some high percentage shots if he’s ever going to become a salvageable asset again.
  12. Prediction: The Wizards will be within 2% of 100 points per game—on offense and defense. Reality: Juuuust a bit outside. Defensively the Wiz kids have shown improvement, down from allowing 104.7 points per game last season to a merely conference worst 100.8 this year. As you might have guessed scoring is down league-wide, so Washington is still the third most porous defense in the Association after the first half—actually worse than last season’s sixth-to-last finish. Offensively the Wizards are scoring just under 92 points a contest, though that number jumps to over 97 in February after averaging 83 in three December contests and just under 90 in January. So while the Wizards offense is improving, they’ll be hard pressed to average the 104 points a game it will take to prove me in any way right about this one. That being said, the improvement since Flip Saunder’s departure is welcome.

So there you have it Ladies and Gentlemen: five predictions unlikely, one TBD and six on track. It’s been a whirlwind first half of the season, and hopefully we can look forward to the Wizards putting it all together down the stretch—or at least showing signs of continued development after a disappointing start.

Later this week: How to fix what ails the Wizards…

WIZARDS: Vote Wall, McGee, Blatche and Young for All-Star Game

VOTE HERE or text a player’s last name to 69622 (MY NBA), only one vote per day will be counted. Deadline for voting is Jan. 31.

WALL, MCGEE, BLATCHE AND YOUNG HIGHLIGHT 2012 NBA ALL-STAR BALLOT
Fans Can Vote For Wall, McGee, Blatche and Young on NBA.com, via Wireless, Through Expanded SMS Voting, and the New “Sprint NBA Mobile” Application


ORLANDO, Jan. 4, 2012- Washington Wizards players John Wall, JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche and Nick Young are among the highlights on the 2012 NBA All-Star Ballott, which was unveiled today during a special event in Orlando, the Official Host City of NBA All-Star 2012. NBA All-Star Balloting presented by Sprint will begin today at 12:15 PM ET. The 61st NBA All-Star Game, which will air live on TNT and ESPN Radio in the U.S., and reach fans in more than 200 countries and territories in more than 40 languages, will be played at the Amway Center on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012.

2012 NBA All-Star Balloting presented by Sprint gives fans around the world the opportunity to vote daily for their favorite players as starters for the 2012 NBA All-Star Game. There are several ways fans can cast their votes for Wall, McGee, Blatche and Young, including: at Verizon Center; in 16 languages on NBA.com and through mobile phones by texting “Wall”, “McGee”, “Blatche” or “Young” to 6-9-6-2-2 (“MYNBA”) or by visiting m.NBA.com on any wireless carrier. Sprint customers can also access the ballot and vote through the new “Sprint NBA Mobile” application, the most comprehensive app in the marketplace for NBA fans.

2012 NBA All-Star Balloting presented by Sprint also includes expanded SMS voting. Fans can now vote for 10 different players per day, per phone number, via SMS voting by sending 10 separate SMS messages, each one with a different player’s last name. Fans can vote for “Wall”, “McGee”, “Blatche”, or “Young” via SMS at any time by texting from their mobile phones. Message and data rates may apply. Previously, fans could cast one SMS vote for one player per day.

Fans can vote directly on NBA.com or use their Facebook profile information to help create an NBA.com All-Access account, which enables them to complete a ballot. After submitting their All-Star selections, fans will have the ability to share them with their friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter, and encourage others to cast their ballots.

Wireless and SMS balloting, as well as voting on NBA.com, will conclude on Jan. 31. Starters will be announced live on TNT on Feb. 2, during a special one-hour pregame show at 7 p.m. ET featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith. The special will air prior to TNT’s exclusive doubleheader featuring the Chicago Bulls at the New York Knicks (8 p.m. ET) and the Denver Nuggets at the Los Angeles Clippers (10:30 p.m. ET).

The NBA All-Star ballot lists 120 players – 60 each from the Eastern and Western conferences – with 24 guards, 24 forwards, and 12 centers from each conference comprising the list. Voters select two guards, two forwards and one center from each conference.

The 120 players on the ballot were selected by a panel of media who regularly cover the NBA: Bill Simmons (Grantland), Sekou Smith (NBA.com), Doug Smith (Toronto Star/PBWA), and Ian Thomsen (Sports Illustrated).

Season tickets, partial plans and group tickets are currently available by calling the Wizards sales office at 202-661-5050 or by visiting www.washingtonwizards.com. For individual game tickets, please call Ticketmaster at 202-397-SEAT or visit www.ticketmaster.com.

2012 NBA ALL-STAR EASTERN CONFERENCE BALLOT

EAST GUARDS (24)
Allen, Ray, Boston
Augustin, DJ, Charlotte
Calderon, Jose, Toronto
Collison, Darren, Indiana
DeRozan, DeMar, Toronto
George, Paul, Indiana
Hamilton, Richard, Chicago
Holiday, Jrue, Philadelphia
Irving, Kyrie, Cleveland
Jackson, Stephen, Milwaukee
Jennings, Brandon, Milwaukee
Johnson, Joe, Atlanta
Morrow, Anthony, New Jersey
Nelson, Jameer, Orlando
Richardson, Jason, Orlando
Rondo, Rajon, Boston
Rose, Derrick, Chicago
Stuckey, Rodney, Detroit
Teague, Jeff, Atlanta
Wade, Dwyane, Miami
Wall, John, Washington
Walker, Kemba, Charlotte
Williams, Deron, New Jersey
Young, Nick, Washington

EAST FORWARDS (24)
Anthony, Carmelo, New York
Bargnani, Andrea, Toronto
Bass, Brandon, Boston
Blatche, Andray, Washington
Boozer, Carlos, Chicago
Bosh, Chris, Miami
Brand, Elton, Philadelphia
Deng, Luol, Chicago
Garnett, Kevin, Boston
Granger, Danny, Indiana
Hansbrough, Tyler, Indiana
Humphries, Kris, New Jersey
Iguodala, Andre, Philadelphia
James, LeBron, Miami
Jamison, Antawn, Cleveland
Jerebko, Jonas, Detroit
Maggette, Corey, Charlotte
Pierce, Paul, Boston
Prince, Tayshaun, Detroit
Smith, Josh, Atlanta
Stoudemire, Amar’e, New York
Turkoglu, Hedo, Orlando
West, David, Indiana
Young, Thaddeus, Philadelphia

EAST CENTERS (12)
Anthony, Joel, Miami
Bogut, Andrew, Milwaukee
Chandler, Tyson, New York
Diaw, Boris, Charlotte
Hawes, Spencer, Philadelphia
Hibbert, Roy, Indiana
Horford, Al, Atlanta
Howard, Dwight, Orlando
McGee, JaVale, Washington
Monroe, Greg, Detroit
Noah, Joakim, Chicago
Varejao, Anderson, Cleveland

2012 NBA ALL-STAR WESTERN CONFERENCE BALLOT

WEST GUARDS (24)
Afflalo, Arron, Denver
Billups, Chauncey, L.A. Clippers
Bryant, Kobe, LA Lakers
Conley, Mike, Memphis
Curry, Stephen, Golden State
Ellis, Monta, Golden State
Evans, Tyreke, Sacramento
Felton, Raymond, Portland
Ginobili, Manu, San Antonio
Gordon, Eric, New Orleans
Harris, Devin, Utah
Kidd, Jason, Dallas
Lawson, Ty, Denver
Lowry, Kyle, Houston
Martin, Kevin, Houston
Matthews, Wesley, Portland
Miller, Andre, Denver
Nash, Steve, Phoenix
Parker, Tony, San Antonio
Paul, Chris, L.A. Clippers
Rubio, Ricky, Minnesota
Terry, Jason, Dallas
Thornton, Marcus, Sacramento
Westbrook, Russell, Oklahoma City

WEST FORWARDS (24)
Aldridge, LaMarcus, Portland
Batum, Nicolas, Portland
Beasley, Michael, Minnesota
Duncan, Tim, San Antonio
Durant, Kevin, Oklahoma City
Favors, Derrick, Utah
Gallinari, Danilo, Denver
Gasol, Pau, LA Lakers
Gay, Rudy, Memphis
Griffin, Blake, LA Clippers
Harden, James, Oklahoma City
Hill, Grant, Phoenix
Ibaka, Serge, Oklahoma City
Landry, Carl, New Orleans
Lee, David, Golden State
Love, Kevin, Minnesota
Marion, Shawn, Dallas
Millsap, Paul, Utah
Nowitzki, Dirk, Dallas
Odom, Lamar, Dallas
Randolph, Zach, Memphis
Scola, Luis, Houston
Wallace, Gerald, Portland
World Peace, Metta, L.A. Lakers

WEST CENTERS (12)
Bynum, Andrew, LA Lakers
Camby, Marcus, Portland
Cousins, DeMarcus, Sacramento
Dalembert, Samuel, Houston
Gasol, Marc, Memphis
Gortat, Marcin, Phoenix
Jefferson, Al, Utah
Jordan, DeAndre, L.A. Clippers
Kaman, Chris, New Orleans
Nene, Denver
Okafor, Emeka, New Orleans
Perkins, Kendrick, Oklahoma City

Wizards defend their turf against Durant, OKC

Reverse lock.

There’s no other way to explain it.  The Washington Wizards entered last night’s game with one win in 13 tries.  They hosted the Western Conference leading Oklahoma City Thunder, who came into Verizon Center with a 12-2 record and two legitimate NBA superstars, D.C. local product Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook.

Durant and Westbrook got theirs, combining for 69 points, but the Wizards got a relatively balanced attacked, hit some key free throws at the end, and overtook the Thunder for their second win of the season, 105-102, before an announced crowd of 15,075 — most of whom were on their feet in appreciation for the last two minutes of the game.

Washington outscored Oklahoma City by eight points combined in the third and fourth quarters to earn the victory.  The loss snaps the Thunder’s seven-game winning streak.

John Wall led the Wizards with 25 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.  The second-year point guard went toe-to-toe with Westbrook most of the night, and with time running down, the Wizards made sure the ball was in his hands for the Thunder to send him to the line when they had to intentionally foul.  Wall hit 5-of-6 free throws with less than a minute to play to help seal the win and was 13-of-14 from the line overall.  Wall even drew four offensive charging fouls with solid positional defense.

Nick Young poured in 24 points and went 5-for-10 from three-point range.  Jordan Crawford added 18 points and was 9-of-11 from the line as well.

As was the case in their previous win, the Wizards got a big boost when they went with a young line-up, getting an instant boost whenever Jan Vesely was on the court.  His stat line (6 points (on 3-of-6 shooting), 3 boards (all offensive), one steal and one block in 19 minutes) wasn’t overly impressive, but he brings an energy when he’s on the floor that seems to be infectious.

The game didn’t start off too hot for the Wizards, as they went 2-of-11 right off the bat.  But they never let Oklahoma City run away from them in the first half, setting up the improbable second half run.

Coach Flip Saunders talked about the little things the Wizards are starting to do right.   “We did the little things you need to do to play winning basketball.  We continue to work on [them], we continue to stress [them].  We get frustrated when [the players] don’t do them.  But when you do those little things, it results in wins.”

The game was not without its problems, unfortunately.

Andray Blatche continues to reside in the fans’ doghouse.  Inserted back into the starting lineup by Saunders, the forward was booed during pre-game introductions, and several times during the game.   “Man, from the time they called my name out, [the fans booed].  I tried to just keep my head in the game and just help my teammates.  Most important thing is that we won.”

Blatche actually started to pass up open jumpers to avoid a possible miss, and thus hear it again from the crowd.  “It’s tough taking some open shots when, if I take one and I miss, the boos come on.  I don’t know.  It stems down your shot selection.  It’s tough.”

But the Wizards shouldn’t dwell on the negatives surrounding this game.  It was a big win, they got the crowd squarely in their favor as the last couple of minutes ticked away, and they knocked off a team that they really had no business being within 20 points of at the end.  No, this is a game that you savor, and stash away for later in the season when the team needs a pick-me-up.

There will be plenty of time for more negativity as this season progresses.

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