Sunday, November 4, 2007

Going through the motions

For the third time in four nights, the Wizards seemed very uncomfortable on the floor as they lost to the Magic on Saturday night. The Wiz were unable to feed off of the crowd in their home-opener and looked flat, uninterested and just plain sloppy.

Under Eddie Jordan the Wizards seem to be notoriously slow starters, but this season's start has been horrendous. They've looked competitive only at certain points and are finding ways to lose. The excuse in the past has usually been that the team always changes it's starting lineup and personnel, but this season, that reasoning won't work since the team kept the same starting five of Arenas, Stevenson, Butler, Jamison and Haywood. Sure, they've only played three games, but there are plenty of issues at this very moment.

First of all, what has happened to the Wizards' shooting? As a team, the Wizards are shooting 35% from the field and 20% from three-point range. Yes, 20% -- that's embarrassing for any team, not to mention an NBA team. Caron Butler (45%) and Brendan Haywood (52%) are the only Wizards shooting over 40% from the field, and Nick Young is the only player shooting over 30% from three, mainly because he's only taken one three-pointer and made it.

To make matters worse, the Wizards aren't even taking care of the ball while they chuck up brick after brick. They're averaging almost 18 turnovers per game, with Butler and Arenas totaling about five per game each. Last year, the Wizards were great at limiting their own turnovers while forcing other teams to lose the ball. They averaged under 14 turnovers per game and forced just under 16. The Wiz also totaled about eight steals a game last year and are only getting about six now.

If I told you before the season that Brendan Haywood would average 10 points and almost 14 rebounds through the first three games, you never would have guessed that the Wiz would start out 0-3. Haywood has played the best so far this season with Butler right behind him. But besides those two, no one really comes in at a close third. Arenas hit that amazing game-tying three-pointer in the team's opener against the Pacers, but he's currently shooting 1-17 (6%) from three. He has shot poorly in certain stretches before in his career but never that badly.

Meanwhile, as the starters have obviously struggled, the bench really hasn't been much better. Songaila has played well so far, but usually the team has to take out Haywood when Songaila comes in because neither one can really guard another team's power forward. Songaila isn't big enough or quick enough, and Haywood is a little too sluggish to defend tall, athletic power forwards like Chris Bosh, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Amare Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki, Carlos Boozer, etc. That's the area where Andray Blatche was supposed to step in and help this team, yet he's averaging less than 10 minutes per game. He's definitely struggled, and somehow he's only grabbed three rebounds in three games while scoring a whopping four points. Now that's what I call living up to the hype.

Guys like Roger Mason and Antonio Daniels are playing the way they normally do, but they can't carry this team and are just supposed to compliment the big three. As for the rookies, Nick Young isn't ready yet and apparently Dominic McGuire isn't either. Eddie Jordan has been very reluctant to putting either in, and neither has impressed with the sporadic playing time they've received.

Obviously through three games, the Wizards haven't looked very good. And even though DeShawn Stevenson has played very poorly too, he got it right in one of his post-game comments after the loss to the Magic.

"I think we need to get into the gym and just go at each other," said Stevenson. "We need to get one of those tough practices where everybody doesn't like each other, get that trash-talking going and make each other uncomfortable. I think right now, everyone is too relaxed and we don't play like that. Normally, we play with a chip on our shoulder. We have to get that attitude back."

He's exactly right. I know the season just started, but I've rarely seen a team play who looks so relaxed and comfortable while playing so horribly. There's no sense of emotion or energy, and many of the players look like they believe that just because they show up and have talent that they're supposed to win the game by default. It doesn't work that way. Just because Arenas writes in his blog that he's going to score 50 or lead the Wiz to victory doesn't mean it'll happen just like that. It happens on the court against quality opponents, not in front of a computer.

The Wizards won games last year with scoring, hustle and timely buckets. They aren't a good defensive team, and I doubt they will be with this core of players. Arenas looks lost on the defensive end, Jamison is undersized and struggles against both bigger and quicker players, and even the team's "best" defender, Stevenson, has his own weaknesses when guarding other shooting guards off the dribble. But they don't have to be one of the best when limiting other opponents, evident by having the Eastern Conference's best record before the all-star break until untimely injuries to Arenas and Butler ruined last season's promise.

I want the Wizards to get mad. I want Arenas to get angry at these losses and start wrecking opposing defenses the way he did last year. I want Jamison to throw up more crazy floaters that always seem to find the bottom of the net. I want Butler to stop turning the ball over like this was an And-1 game. And I want Blatche to show his skills on the court like he's capable of doing.

But mainly, I want the Wizards to show some heart on the court and stop getting stomped on like they're one of the worst teams in the league. They're definitely not, and it's time to get their identity back from previous seasons.

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