Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Maryland dominates Miami, moves to 4-1 in ACC

For the first time in a while (or at least that I can remember), Maryland has won three straight ACC games in convincing fashion. First, the Terps went to Boston College and won handily, and then they came home and blew out N.C. State and Miami (with a victory over Longwood thrown in for good measure).

Greivis Vasquez is the Terps' best player, but by no means has he had to carry them to victory in any of those games. Right now the Terps are sharing the ball and have a balanced attack, and last night's game was no different. Vasquez and Landon Milbourne each had 16 points, with Eric Hayes and Sean Mosley each chipping in 10. Jordan Williams and Dino Gregory each had eight points, and Adrian Bowie had nine. Vasquez also dished out a game-high nine assists.

The Terps (14-5, 4-1) played suffocating defense in the first half, which led to plenty of turnovers for Miami (15-5, 1-5) and a large share of fast-break opportunities and free throws for Maryland. Not only did Miami shoot just 38.3 percent from the field, but the Hurricanes had just five assists -- and 16 turnovers. Maryland, on the other hand, shot over 50 percent from the field and accumulated 19 assists before getting a little sloppy in the second half with the game already decided and ending up with 11 turnovers.

The scariest thing about the Terps is that Gary Williams already seems to have figured out a solid eight-man rotation. Vasquez-Hayes-Mosley-Milbourne-Williams is a strong starting lineup, and Bowie, Cliff Tucker, and Gregory all bring something to the table when they come off the bench. All eight players possess position flexibility, which gives Gary Williams plenty of lineup options and combinations to utilize in various game situations. The Terps are versatile; most of them can handle the ball, slash to the basket, and shoot. And opposing teams have to respect that.

After playing three straight home games, the Terps go on the road to face No. 21 Clemson on Sunday.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Championship game picks

Despite the large number of blowouts in the playoffs so far, I can't complain about the matchups in both the AFC and NFC Championship games (especially since the Cowboys and Eagles have been eliminated). The Saints and Vikings were easily the two best teams in the NFC this year, the Colts had the NFL's best record and could still be undefeated if they actually wanted to be, and the Jets have the NFL's best defense and rushing attack and have caught fire at the right time. All four teams deserve to be playing today, and each certainly has a decent chance to get to the Super Bowl.

Here are my picks for the two games:

COLTS (-8) over Jets

To me, the biggest matchup in this game isn't Peyton Manning vs. the Jets defense -- it's the other way around. The Colts are going to do everything in their power to shut down the Jets' ground game and force Mark Sanchez to beat them. Sanchez, as many rookies can be, is turnover prone, and the Colts will try to confuse him and put pressure on him in ways that they didn't show in the teams' first meeting late in the regular season.

In that game (a 29-15 Jets win), which isn't the best example since the Colts pulled their starters early in the third quarter, the Jets only scored one offensive touchdown (a one-yard run by Thomas Jones). Their two other touchdowns came in the third quarter on fluky plays: a 106-yard kickoff return by Brad Smith and a fumble return for a touchdown with backup quarterback Curtis Painter in the game for the Colts. The Jets were able to run the ball (202 yards on 44 carries), but Sanchez didn't do anything out of the ordinary (12-19 for 106 yards).

Sanchez doesn't have to have a big game for the Jets to win, but he does have to take care of the ball and move the chains on more than a few instances. If he plays somewhere in the middle of how he played in the Bengals game (12-15 for 182 yards, one TD) and the Chargers game (12-23 for 100 yards, one TD, one INT), then the Jets should have a shot.

The Jets defense will slow down Manning and the Colts a little bit, but their offense is still going to need to score points. At some point, they may even have to move the ball down the field quickly and won't be able to simply lean on the running game. I just don't think Sanchez can do that in such a big game against a team that's been in this situation many times before.

Colts 24, Jets 13

Vikings (+4) over SAINTS

First, let me say this: I'm pulling for the Saints. I respect Brett Favre and think he's a great quarterback, but I don't want to see him in the Super Bowl.

Back to the game: This has a chance to be a phenomenal playoff game. Now that Percy Harvin has participated in practice, both teams have all of their offensive weapons ready to go (except for Jeremy Shockey, but really, who cares about Shockey?). The Vikings and Saints are both loaded at running back and wide receiver, not to mention that Drew Brees and Favre are two of the best quarterbacks in the game and had fantastic seasons.

Both teams are going to get their points, but I think one of the game's biggest factors is Reggie Bush. He looked awesome last week -- where did that come from? He's always been a threat on special teams, but he was running over Cardinals' defenders and finishing runs in a way that I've never seen him do before. If Bush morphs into that running back threat again, the Saints offense will be almost impossible to stop.

The Vikings, though, looked just as good as the Saints in their 34-3 blowout win over the Cowboys. Favre threw four touchdown passes -- three to Sidney Rice -- and their defense sacked Tony Romo six times and forced three turnovers. Adrian Peterson didn't have a big game (26 carries for 63 yards), but he didn't have to with Favre picking the Cowboys defense apart.

I don't have a particularly strong feeling either way on who's going to win, but I do like that the Vikings led the NFL in sacks with 48 while the Saints only had 35. I expect a ton of yards and points in this game, and one quarterback pressure or sack may be the difference in this shootout.

Saints 34, Vikings 31

Regular season: 132-116-8
Playoffs: 3-5
Overall record: 135-121-8

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wizards fall short against Mavericks

With about six seconds left and the Wizards trailing by one, Flip Saunders decided to get Caron Butler the ball to give him a chance to win the game. That plan didn't work out, though, as Shawn Marion read Butler's move and blocked his shot to give the Mavericks a tough road win.

I have to say, though, that I was proud of the Wizards for not throwing in the towel last night. With about seven minutes left in the third quarter, the Mavericks were up 11 (62-51), but the Wizards fought back and eventually took the lead early in the fourth quarter -- and that's despite Antawn Jamison having one of his worst games this season (seven points on 2-10 shooting and only three rebounds).

The Wizards were led by Brendan Haywood (13 points, 18 rebounds, two blocks), Butler (20 points, 10 rebounds), and Randy Foye (26 points, three assists). Mike Miller played a solid 31 minutes off the bench (eight points, three rebounds, four assists) and, of course, only took five shots. He also made both of his three-point attempts. Earl Boykins (11 points, three assists) and Andray Blatche (eight points, four rebounds, two blocks) also played pretty well coming off the bench. Blatche played pretty good defense on Dirk Nowitzki on a few possessions, which is noteworthy since the Wizards don't usually play much defense.

Two other notes:

-- I still don't understand why DeShawn Stevenson is playing anything more than a few minutes a game. He didn't score a point last night, missing all three of his shots in 17 minutes. His only other contribution was a single rebound (and two turnovers!). The only reasonable excuse for playing Stevenson would be if he was an elite defensive player, which he is not. At this point in his career, I'm not sure that he's even a much better defensive player than someone like Nick Young, who is apparently in the doghouse again and has played just three minutes combined in the last two games. Do you realize that Stevenson isn't even shooting 30 percent from the field? Right now, he's shooting 28.8 percent; the only other shooting guards shooting worse than that are Daequan Cook (28.6 percent) and Lindsey Hunter (16.7 percent). It's time to stop the madness, Flip.

-- It remains to be seen whether or not Foye can be a point guard, but still, he's averaging 16.5 points and 5.1 assists in January and is shooting much better from the field this month too (48.2 percent). With the team's only other point guard option being Earl Boykins (unless you count Mike James, who never plays), then it's worth it for the Wizards to keep Foye at the one to see what he can do. For two interesting articles on Foye, check out Truth About It and Empty the Bench.

The Wizards, now 14-27 on the season, host Miami on Friday.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday playoff picks (Divisional round)

Well, that was impressive. Both well-rested after first-round byes, the Saints and Colts took care of business on Saturday. The Saints dominated the Cardinals, overwhelming Arizona with 35 first-half points and winning 45-14. The Saints defense was also effective and held Kurt Warner to a mediocre game -- not to mention knocking him out of the game at one point with a huge hit before halftime.

And the Colts shut down the Ravens, 20-3, in another game that seemed decided at halftime (when the Colts led 17-3). Peyton Manning had a solid game (30-44 for 246 yards, two touchdowns, one interception), but the Colts defense was phenomenal, not only holding the Ravens to just three points, but also forcing turnovers, flying around the field, and making solid tackles. The defense forced three turnovers (another was forced by receiver Pierre Garcon on an amazing hustle play to force an Ed Reed fumble after an interception) and held the Ravens to 270 total yards and only 12 first downs. If the Colts defense keeps playing this well, there's no question that they possess strong Super Bowl Odds going forward in the playoffs.

As for my picks yesterday, I went 1-1 (not too bad). I didn't think the Cardinals would get destroyed like that, but I must have underestimated the power of the Superdome.

Here are my picks for the two games today:

Cowboys (+3) over VIKINGS

Which Brett Favre shows up today for the Vikings? And can they get Adrian Peterson going on the ground? I'm not so sure, especially with how well the Cowboys are playing on defense. Basically, what I'm trying to say is that I have no idea what's going to happen in this game.

Jets (+8) over CHARGERS

So which team is better? The Chargers, right? They've won 11 games in a row, they have the better quarterback, and they had a first-round bye. Let's compare some regular season statistics:

Points per game scored: Chargers 28.4 (4th); Jets 21.8 (17th)
Passing yards per game: Chargers 271.1 (5th); Jets 148.8 (31st)
Rushing yards per game: Chargers 88.9 (31st); Jets 172.3 (1st)

Points per game allowed: Chargers 20.0 (11th); Jets 14.8 (1st)
Passing yards per game allowed: Chargers 209.3 (11th); Jets 153.7 (1st)
Rushing yards per game allowed: Chargers 117.6 (20th); Jets 98.6 (8th)

Now, after looking at all that, who's the better team? You at least have to think a little bit harder about it. Obviously, stats aren't everything, but it's certainly impressive that the Jets are very good at running the ball and allow the fewest points on defense. The Chargers, on the other hand, score more points, throw the ball more -- and much more effectively -- and are still decent on defense (allowing 20 points per game isn't bad at all).

So what do we have in this game? The Chargers have a great quarterback and, as they should, love to throw the ball and keep the ball in his hands. But they don't particularly run the ball well. They also have a decent defense and led the AFC in turnover differential (+10). The Jets, on the other hand, have a rookie quarterback who threw 20 interceptions during the regular season, but they have an outstanding offensive line and have no problem pounding the ball until the opposing defense breaks. They also have arguably the best defense in the NFL and the best cornerback as well, who will certainly affect the Chargers' passing attack in some way.

I still like the Chargers, but the Jets might be a little better than many people give them credit for (including me). If Mark Sanchez doesn't turn the ball over and the Jets can force a few turnovers, the Jets certainly have a chance. I think the Chargers win at home, but I'm expecting a close game.

Regular season: 132-116-8
Playoffs: 2-4
Overall record: 134-120-8

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Saturday playoff picks (Divisional round)

So last week's games didn't turn out too well for me (1-3 record). Let's see if I can improve on that mark. Here are my picks for today's two games:

Cardinals (+7) over SAINTS

COLTS (-7) over Ravens

Regular reason: 132-116-8
Playoffs: 1-3
Overall record: 133-119-8

Friday, January 15, 2010

Redskins decide to part ways with Sherman Smith

According to Redskins Insider's Jason Reid, Mike Shanahan and the Redskins have decided not to retain Sherman Smith, the team's offensive coordinator the last two seasons. Shanahan's son, Kyle, will be the offensive coordinator, and the new running backs coach (under the position "assistant head coach-running backs" according to Reid) will be Bobby Turner, the Denver Broncos' former running backs coach.

Some speculated that Smith would be given a chance to stay, but his fate was ultimately sealed when the Redskins hired Turner.

Jason Campbell, who still isn't completely sure what his role will be next season, or if he'll even be playing in Washington, had some nice things to say about Smith:

"I'm definitely sorry to see him go. . . . Coach Sherman Smith is a great guy. He's a guy full of character. When he spoke, he spoke with a lot of knowledge.

"You just listened when he spoke because the words he used were so meaningful. He knew how to get your attention. He's a real motivator. I just wish him all the best. Wherever he winds up, the team he goes to will be lucky to have him on the staff."

As far as the rest of Shanahan's coaching staff goes, Barry Svlruga did his best in an earlier Redskins Insider post to sort out the situation so far.

Defensive coordinator Greg Blache and offensive line coach Joe Bugel are both retiring. Jim Haslett has been hired to be the team's defensive coordinator, and former Steelers defensive assistant Lou Spanos has agreed to become the Redskins' new linebackers coach under Haslett. Other than that, it's all speculation. Svlruga thinks defensive backs coach Jerry Gray is on his way out, and here are some of the other possibilities he lists for coaching positions:

Defense backs: Bob Slowik
Special teams: Danny Smith (retained)
Defensive line: Mike Waufle or Tim Krumrie
Receivers coach: Richard Mann

Again, those are just Svlruga's educated guesses. Svlruga mentions that there are still question marks at offensive line coach, quarterbacks coach, safeties coach, and tight ends coach. He also asks an interesting question: "Will linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti, the longest-tenured member of the Redskins staff, remain with the team?" With Spanos on board, that doesn't seem likely.

Anyway, this is just a quick summary of the coaching staff situation. Both articles contain a lot of information and should be read by anyone looking for more information on the process taking place. Still, at least one thing's for sure: The Redskins coaching staff is going to look a whole lot different next season.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wiz drop another, fall to 12-25 on the season

Playing some uninspired basketball at least until the third quarter, the Wizards fell to the Atlanta Hawks, 94-82. And you'll never believe this: the Wizards cut into the Hawks' lead and were down only four heading into the fourth quarter -- and then they were outplayed yet again in the game's final frame.

Here's what you need to know about the game from Washington's perspective: 1) The Wizards shot 35.8 percent from the field; 2) despite their cold shooting, they were still six of 12 from three-point range; 3) they scored 33 first-half points; 4) DeShawn Stevenson played the most minutes off the bench, with 20, and he actually made a three!; and 5) Antawn Jamison played (and is playing) like an All Star.

More on Jamison: At this point, I feel a little sorry for him. I'm the first person to admit that, while he's an outstanding offensive player, he's not exactly a defensive force and that hurts the Wizards since no one else other than Brendan Haywood actually plays much defense. But still: Jamison always plays hard. Last night, Jamison scored 25 points and had 19 rebounds. In January, he's averaging 27.3 points and 10.4 rebounds per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field. Either Jamison's been feeling it lately, or he's desperately trying to play his best so the Wizards can send him to a contender. And if that's the case, it's hard to blame him.

On the other hand, Caron Butler is not playing like an All Star. With Gilbert Arenas out, Butler should be getting all the touches on offense that he wants, yet he's not doing much with them. Last night his 15 points came on 18 shots, though he deserves a little credit for grabbing 11 rebounds. Right now, he's averaging 16.5 points on the season, his lowest since his 2004-2005 season with the Lakers (15.5 points). I don't know if he wants to get out of Washington, or if he really misses Mountain Dew, but Butler doesn't look like the same player of the last few seasons.

Other than that, Haywood had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds -- and he made all seven of his free throws -- and Randy Foye chipped in 18 points, eight assists, and four rebounds. Remember earlier in the season when Foye couldn't get on the court because of Earl Boykins? That sure seems like a long time ago.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wake Forest edges Maryland in OT as bad Greivis surfaces

There's no question that not only is Greivis Vasquez Maryland's best player, but that the Terps will only go so far this year as Vasquez can take them. And yesterday, with the Terps battling on the road at Wake Forest and pushing the game into overtime, Maryland needed just one or two more plays from Vasquez down the stretch -- and didn't get it.

Let's be clear: I'm not saying the Terps lost the game because of Vasquez -- far from it. They wouldn't have even been in the game without him on the floor. All I'm saying is that Vasquez wasn't particularly efficient, scoring 30 points on 27 shots (a season-high for him) while dishing out seven assists -- and also turning the ball over six times. Efficient shooting has never been a big part of Vasquez's offensive arsenal, but with smaller guards on him for most of the game, he shot 12 three-pointers instead of attacking the paint more. Again, Vasquez didn't have a bad game -- just not the type of game that Maryland needed from him on the road against a tough opponent.

As for overall team stats, the game was extremely close. Wake Forest shot better from the field (45.7 percent to 40.0 percent), but Maryland made three more three-pointers and three more free throws. Also, despite a size advantage for Wake Forest, each team grabbed 40 rebounds. The Terps dished out six more assists, but Wake blocked six more shots.

Missing a golden opportunity to start 2-0 in the conference, Maryland falls to 1-1 in the ACC. The Terps' next three ACC opponents are Boston College, NC State, and Miami -- and then things start to get difficult, with a five-game stretch that includes No. 19 Clemson, No. 25 Florida State, No. 13 North Carolina, Virginia, and No. 7 Duke.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Stump Mitchell: 'Clinton could've worked harder'

Besides Albert Haynesworth, one of the biggest targets of criticism this season was certainly Clinton Portis and his apparent lack of conditioning. Portis was occasionally seen gasping for air on the sidelines after a 10-yard run (though there weren't many of them) and didn't seem to be as in shape as the Portis of earlier seasons.

Stump Mitchell, the Redskins running backs coach the last two seasons who is now leaving to take the head coaching job at Southern University, offered similar thoughts when asked to reflect on Portis, according to an article in The Washington Post.

Said Mitchell:

"That's the only disappointment that I'll have. The fact that I couldn't persuade Clinton to do it a different way," Mitchell said Monday. "I want Clinton to be the best back in the league. But in order for that to happen, you have to prepare for it. But I don't know if that's what Clinton wants to do." . . . Asked if Portis's practice habits and offseason conditioning have held him back, Mitchell said: "That's a slam dunk. Clinton could've worked harder."

"He's got to do that," Mitchell continued, "and [owner Daniel Snyder] has to understand that that's what has to be done. In order for the Redskins to be successful, that's what Clinton has to do. He has to change the way he's done things in the past in order for them to be successful as a team."

Depending on the cap situation and what new head coach Mike Shanahan decides, the Redskins may or may not cut Portis. But, according to the same article, "if [the Redskins] released [Portis] before June, the team could still face a cap hit of as much as $14.8 million." Ouch.

Speaking of production, or lack thereof, it's hard to argue that the offensive line wasn't holding the Redskins offense back this season. The offensive line was the weakest part of the team -- and the most in need of an upgrade. But in terms of run blocking, the line wasn't nearly as bad in that department as in trying to protect Jason Campbell (and failing miserably). I mention this because as far as Portis's yards per carry average goes, his numbers have been fairly consistent. Here are his YPC numbers in his six seasons in Washington:

2004-2005: 3.8
2005-2006: 4.3
2006-2007: 4.1
2007-2008: 3.9
2008-2009: 4.3
2009-2010: 4.0

It's impossible to tell how much better Portis could have been if he completely devoted himself to getting in the best shape possible, especially with the beating he's taken since joining the Redskins. But we'll never know that.

The best thing Portis can do now to remain with the Redskins is to work as hard as possible to prepare for the upcoming season. Even though he's older now and isn't the same player he was back in 2002, maybe he'll get some motivation from this: In his two seasons in Denver, Portis averaged 5.5 yards per carry and ran for over 1,500 yards in both seasons. If anyone can get a little more productivity out of Portis, it's Shanahan.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday playoff picks (Wild Card round)

Man, what a disappointing first two games -- and I'm not even talking about completely botching both picks. The Bengals couldn't get anything together in the passing department, and they couldn't stop the Jets' rushing attack either. Rookie Shonn Greene ran for 135 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, and Thomas Jones chipped in 34 yards and a touchdown of his own. Even rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez looked pretty good, completing 12 of 15 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown -- and a quarterback rating of 139.4. Carson Palmer, on the other hand, was under siege all day by the Jets defense and completed only 18 of 36 passes with one touchdown and one interception. But the Bengals still had a chance, and they can thank kicker Shayne Graham for destroying momentum with two missed kicks -- a 35-yarder in the third quarter and a 28-yarder in the fourth quarter.

But even as mediocre as the Bengals played, they still put up more of a fight than the Eagles, who lost 34-14 and allowed Dallas to score 27 second-quarter points. The Eagles allowed 426 yards, including 198 rushing yards -- and Marion Barber only rushed the ball three times. Felix Jones was great, rushing for 148 yards on just 16 carries. But the real problem for the Eagles was their offense; they allowed four sacks, lost three fumbles, and couldn't solve what the Cowboys were doing on defense. Donovan McNabb, who was under pressure all night, didn't have a good game, completing only 19 of 37 passes for 230 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Michael Vick, getting a few snaps in the Wildcat, was responsible for the first Eagles' touchdown, hitting Jeremy Maclin on a 76-yard touchdown pass. Unfortunately, Vick also fumbled and didn't contribute much other than that long touchdown pass. And typically, the Eagles weren't interested in running the ball (13 carries for 56 yards).

As for today, I'm hoping for closer and more competitive games. Here are my picks:

Ravens (+3.5) over PATRIOTS

Packers (-2) over CARDINALS

Yes, I'm taking both road teams, and no, I don't really have a great reason why. I think the Wes Welker injury hurts the Patriots more than they're letting on, and that as long as the Packers offensive line gives Aaron Rodgers some time in the pocket, he can pick apart the Cardinals secondary. But, as yesterday showed, I might not have any idea what I'm talking about.

Enjoy the games.

Regular reason: 132-116-8
Playoffs: 0-2

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Saturday playoff picks (Wild Card round)

I was all set to recap the regular season and my record this season picking games, and then I decided I'd rather keep picking games during the playoffs and see how I do. So, real quick, here are my two picks for today's matchups.

(Home team is in caps.)

BENGALS (-3) over Jets

I haven't been able to figure the Bengals out this year. When I think they're going to lose big, somehow they find a way to keep the game close and pull out a win. And like last week, when I think they'll play with some fire and ruin the Jets' chances of making the playoffs, they roll over and lay an egg.

But there has to be a reason why they didn't put up a fight last week. Are they relishing their chance to face a rookie quarterback who has to play his first playoff game on the road? Do they feel like they can stop the Jets' potent rushing attack? Or were they simply not concerned with who they'd face this week? Either way, I think the Bengals might know something we don't.

Eagles (+4) over COWBOYS

I really wanted to pick the Cowboys. I think they're the better team, and they have everything working for them right now: Tony Romo is playing well, they can run the ball, and their defense is getting to the quarterback with ease. The Eagles, on the other hand, just got destroyed last week in Dallas.

But I just can't pull the trigger. Maybe it's because I'm a Redskins fan, or maybe it's because I see the Eagles and Donovan McNabb actually showing up this week. Either way, I expect a much better game between these two.

Last week: 6-9-1
Season: 132-116-8

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Wise provides new information on Arenas gun incident

I woke up this morning hoping to read anything other than another story about Gilbert Arenas and his indefinite suspension. And then Mike Wise had to go all journalist on us and provide the most up-to-date details on what apparently took place in the Wizards' locker room last month.

According to Wise, not only did Arenas bring four unloaded guns to the locker room, but Javaris Crittenton apparently had his own gun -- and actually loaded it in front of teammates. Here's Wise's account of what went down:

The dispute between Arenas and Crittenton began on the team plane during a popular card game between players called "Boo-ray." Crittenton lost roughly $1,100 to JaVale McGee, a Wizards center, in the game, according to a player who watched the game and who also spoke on condition of anonymity. Crittenton, already angry over a dispute over the game's rules, became irate when Arenas began needling him.

Their barbs escalated to a point where Arenas, smiling, said he would blow up Crittenton's car, according to two players on the flight, who requested anonymity. Crittenton replied that he would shoot Arenas in his surgically repaired knee.

Walking into the locker room two days after the dispute on the team plane, according to two witnesses, Arenas laid out the guns in Crittenton's locker. Two other teammates eventually sauntered in and, while Arenas was writing the note in front of Crittenton's cubicle, in walked Crittenton, according to their account.

Asking Arenas what he was doing, Arenas replied, "If you want to shoot me, I'd just thought I'd make it easy for you." As other teammates laughed, Crittenton crumpled up the paper, tossed one of Arenas's guns across the room, where it bounced in front of a team trainer, and said he didn't need any of Arenas's firearms because he had his own, according to the witness accounts.

Crittenton then drew his weapon, loaded it and chambered a round, the witnesses said.

Neither witness said the gun was ever pointed at Arenas, but both said Crittenton began singing as he held the gun.

Arenas began laughing, the witnesses said, telling Crittenton, "Look at that little shiny gun," as two other players slowly retreated to the training room.

Arenas eventually followed. By the time the players came back out, Crittenton was gone.

If this story turns out to be true, it sounds exactly like something the quirky Arenas would do for a laugh. Unfortunately, he took it too far by even thinking about bringing guns into the locker room -- and then doing it. And Crittenton's actions certainly escalated the whole thing.

I hope this story isn't true, but I do trust Wise's reporting.

In the same article, Arenas was quoted in a telephone interview and said:

"I just want to remind [NBA commissioner David Stern] of who I am. I'm the kid who jumped off the trampoline at the all-star game, the kid who throws his jersey to people in the stands. I'm not the hoodlum that's being written and talked about right now.

"I'm sorry for my teammates, the city of Washington, the memory of Mr. Pollin and his family, and all my fans that support me and the game of basketball. I mean that. This shouldn't have happened. It shouldn't have got this far. I know that."

I'm glad Arenas said that, but he should have offered such a statement from the beginning. Now he's going to have to see what punishment Stern comes up with, not to mention the legal action that is surely going to be taken against him.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cavs blow out Arenas-less Wizards

The shorthanded Wizards (11-22), playing without the suspended Gilbert Arenas (who is going to be gone for a while) and Mike Miller (who may return Friday from a calf injury), couldn't slow down the now 28-9 Cavaliers, who took care of business at home in a comfortable 121-98 win. The performance was predictable considering this was the second game of a back-to-back on the road for the Wizards -- not to mention that they were without their best player. But unfortunately, they're going to have to adjust to playing without Arenas once again.

Offensively, the Wizards were decent, shooting 44 percent from the field and hitting eight of 16 three-pointers. But strong perimeter shooting was the only thing keeping the Wizards in the game, because they had no answer for the Cavs on defense. Cleveland shot over 57 percent from the field, made 11 of 22 threes, got to the free throw line 10 more times (making 24 of 30), outrebounded the Wizards by 16 (a 44-28 advantage), and dished out 13 more assists. Also, no Wizard posted a positive +/- number -- not even Dominic McGuire in his six garbage minutes at the end of the game.

As for individual numbers, only two Wizards were particularly noteworthy. First, Antawn Jamison led the team with 26 points and did his best to try to rally the troops in the third quarter. But because of Cleveland's much bigger frontcourt, he only grabbed two rebounds. And second, Randy Foye scored 18 points in 29 minutes off the bench. Foye mainly hit jumpers but was still a very solid 8-12 from the field. That was about it. Oh, and Earl Boykins had 10 points and six assists, so that's something worth mentioning.

Also, for the second straight night, Caron Butler didn't do a whole lot. Sure, he was matched up against LeBron James, but you'd think that with Arenas out, he'd try to assert himself more on the offensive end. Instead, Butler took only nine shots, making three of them, and scored just eight points. He also had four rebounds, three assists, and a steal, but that was it. Memo to Butler: With Arenas out, you're going to have to pick things up. Where's Tough Juice when you need him?

Again, this game's result wasn't surprising. How many teams could deal with the Arenas controversy and still be able to hang with the Cavs, one of the NBA's best, on the road? The Wizards played hard; they were just overmatched from the beginning.

Shanahan signs deal with Redskins

Mike Shanahan has agreed to become the next head coach of the Washington Redskins, signing a five-year deal reportedly worth $7 million per season. Shanahan will be introduced as head coach this afternoon.

In the above article, Adam Schefter also answers the widely asked question of how much say Shanahan will have in football matters: "Shanahan will team with Redskins executive vice president and general manager Bruce Allen, but Shanahan will have the ultimate authority on football decisions." So that answers that question.

Whether or not that's a good thing, Shanahan's signing is still very important. But he does have his work cut out for him. Anyway, there will be more on this to follow.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Strong second half effort leads Wiz over 76ers

After allowing the Sixers to score 58 points in the first half (and trailing by 14 points), the Wizards went to work after halftime, outscoring Philadelphia by 12 points in the third quarter and nine points in the fourth. The Wizards also played better defense in the second half, holding the Sixers to 39 points in a 104-97 win on the road.

Playing without Brendan Haywood (sick) and Mike Miller, who wasn't ready to come back from his calf injury, the Wizards shot over 51 percent from the field and dished out 25 assists (to 14 turnovers). The loss of Haywood certainly hurt in the rebounding department -- the Sixers grabbed 10 more rebounds (a 42-32 edge) behind Samuel Dalembert, who had 20 of them (and 20 points too). Still, the Wizards forced 18 turnovers and forced the Sixers into taking more difficult shots in the second half.

Antawn Jamison led the Wizards with 32 points on 13-20 shooting; he also led the team with 14 rebounds -- nine more than anyone else. Gilbert Arenas scored 19 points on a not-so-efficient 6-15 from the field, but he did accumulate 14 assists, a season-high for him.

Unfortunately, Caron Butler didn't have a particularly solid game, only scoring eight points and grabbing four rebounds in 36 minutes. He also only took eight shots. But back to the good: Nick Young gave the Wizards a big spark off the bench, putting up 21 points on an outstanding 9-14 from the field. With the Wizards trailing by four with about five minutes left, Young put this sequence together: he hit an open three; cut to the lane on a fast break, banking in an and-one layup and making the free throw; and then went right at Allen Iverson and nailed a 15-foot jumper to put the Wizards up four and give them the lead for good.

This performance doesn't mean that the Wizards are going to rattle off several wins in a row, especially with consecutive games against Cleveland and Orlando coming up (and the Arenas suspension looming), but it was nice to see the Wiz close out a game in the fourth quarter and actually play like, you know, they cared.

One more thing: I know Dalembert was busy dominating the paint, but Andray Blatche has to do better than three rebounds in 38 minutes. Come on man, box someone out or something.

With Zorn gone, Redskins in talks with Shanahan

After firing Jim Zorn with one year left on his contract, Daniel Snyder, as expected, is in talks with Mike Shanahan to fill the team's head coaching vacancy. According to The Washington Post, Shanahan flew in on Snyder's private jet yesterday and met/talked with Snyder and Bruce Allen and "were expected" to do so "into the night." Sounds like fun.

The job is obviously Shanahan's to turn down, and why would he do so if he's reportedly being offered around $8-$10 million per season over five years? Anyway, look for him to be named head coach by the end of the week.

If Snyder can hire Shanahan, with Allen already on board as the team's general manager, then can this season really be called a failure? Well, sure it can. This organization was the laughingstock of the league this season, with an embarrassing loss to the Lions, a confusing sign ban at FedEx Field, and a circus of an offensive system after Zorn was stripped of his playcalling responsibilities (among many other things). However, the team's terrible performance did cause Vinny Cerrato to finally lose his job, which fans had been calling for for years, and even Zorn wore out his welcome with frustrating loss after frustrating loss.

This team has a lot of needs, but there's plenty of time to talk about that later. Hiring Allen was a step in the right direction, and now it's time to find the right coach. Is that Shanahan? We'll find out soon enough.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Redskins fire Jim Zorn

Well that didn't take long, did it? The Redskins have fired head coach Jim Zorn after two full seasons in Washington, refusing to wait even 24 hours after the regular season had ended. I guess staying medium wasn't so effective after all.

The path now appears to be clear for Dan Snyder to hire Mike Shanahan to lead the team, especially since the team doesn't have to interview Jerry Gray again because they've already complied with the Rooney Rule.

After finishing 4-12 this season, Zorn's final record in D.C. was 12-20.

In a little less than three weeks, the Redskins have fired Vinny Cerrato, hired Bruce Allen to be the executive vice president of football operations and general manager, and now fired Jim Zorn. Yet again, the team will look completely different next season.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Week 17 NFL picks

Picking games the last few weeks has been pretty difficult. Seriously, did anyone have Tampa Bay beating New Orleans? And what happened to the Giants last week?

The Saints (though they have clinched home-field) and Vikings have fallen back to the rest of the NFC pack a little bit. In the NFC East, the Eagles have won six games in a row -- they haven’t lost since Week 10 against the Chargers -- and the Cowboys have righted the ship with consecutive wins over the Saints and Redskins after losses to the Giants and Chargers. The Packers have also looked solid lately, with six wins in their last seven games -- the only loss coming when Ben Roethlisberger completed a last-second, 19-yard pass to Mike Wallace to steal a victory. All in all, the six playoff teams have already been determined in the NFC -- the Saints, Eagles, Vikings, Packers, Cowboys, and Cardinals -- and all that’s left to determine this week is final positioning.

In the AFC, things are much more hectic. The 14-1 Colts have already clinched home-field throughout the playoffs, so they don’t have anything to play for this week. The Chargers, Patriots, and Bengals have already clinched their respective divisions, with the Chargers also clinching a first-round bye. (By the way, did you know that the Chargers have won 10 games in a row? How did Norv Turner pull that off? And they’ve beaten some pretty good teams over that stretch too: the Eagles, Broncos, Cowboys, Bengals, and Titans.) As for the final two playoff spots, the Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Broncos, Texans, Jaguars, and Dolphins are all still alive and could sneak in with various combinations of wins and losses among those teams. If the Ravens and Jets win, then they’re both in. But if one or both of those teams falters, look out.

Anyway, for the final time this season, here are my picks for this week:

(Home team is in caps.)

Colts (+8) over BILLS

The Bills are pretty bad; the Colts are very good. But the Colts will be resting many of their starters, not wanting to risk further injuries. However, the bad weather may negate any kind of advantage the Bills would otherwise have on the field, so expect a close game in snowy and windy conditions.

PANTHERS (-7) over Saints

Drew Brees isn't playing. The Panthers have also looked much better with anyone other than Jake Delhomme playing quarterback. Don't be surprised if the Panthers win big.

Jaguars (+1) over BROWNS

The Browns have won three games in a row, beating the Steelers, Chiefs, and Raiders. Oddly enough, their quarterbacks have done almost nothing in those games; they can mostly thank Jerome Harrison and Joshua Cribbs for some outstanding performances. Even though the Jaguars only have a minimal chance to make the playoffs, they still need a win this week to have any possibility of sneaking in. And do you think the Browns can win four games in a row? I don't.

Bears (-3) over LIONS

The Bears looked great last week, so that probably means they'll lay an egg this week. Still, either Daunte Culpepper or Drew Stanton will start at quarterback for the Lions, who seem to be positioning for yet another high draft pick.

TEXANS (-7) over Patriots

How long will Tom Brady play? As of this moment, no one really knows. My guess is that he won't play at all in the second half, which would give the Texans a huge advantage. Houston desperately needs a win to have a chance, and as of this moment they're firing on all cylinders with three wins in a row. If Brady and the rest of the team's starers play the entire game, the Texans could be in trouble, but I don't think that's going to happen.

Steelers (-3) over DOLPHINS

Two losses in a row have all but ended the Dolphins season, but technically, they still have an outside chance to sneak in. The Steelers, though, have more realistic odds, needing a win and only a couple of losses. Unfortunately, they'll still be without safety Troy Polamalu, who the defense has certainly missed. Still, this is a big game, and the Steelers haven't lost many big games lately -- I'll go with Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh.

VIKINGS (-8) over Giants

The Vikings want that first-round bye, and to get it, they'll have to take care of the Giants. That shouldn't be too difficult, especially since the Giants apparently checked out before their Week 16 blowout loss to the Panthers. Brett Favre and crew have looked a little shaky the last two weeks, but expect them to get back to business this week.

49ers (-8) over RAMS

Move along, nothing to see here.

Falcons (-2) over BUCCANEERS

Ditto, though Michael Turner isn't expected to play.

Eagles (+3) over COWBOYS

Now here's an important game. The Eagles would like to earn a first-round bye (with a win and a Vikings loss), while the Cowboys would like to prevent that from happening while also earning that same first-round bye with a win, a Vikings loss, and a Cardinals loss. Both teams are playing their best football of the season, and each would like nothing more than to knock the other down the totem pole a bit. As for my pick, I just think the Eagles are better.

CARDINALS (-3) over Packers

The Packers don't have much to play for, while the Cardinals can clinch a first-round bye with a win, a Vikings loss, and an Eagles loss. How long Aaron Rodgers, Kurt Warner, or any of the other starters will play is anyone's guess. That's always fun.

BRONCOS (-10) over Chiefs

Anything less than a Broncos blowout would be a big surprise.

Ravens (-11) over RAIDERS

Ed Reed returns for the Ravens. Charlie Frye is starting at quarterback for the Raiders. Enough said.

CHARGERS (-3.5) over Redskins

Philip Rivers may not play more than a few series, but it won't matter if the Redskins can't score any points. The Redskins seem to have given up on the season, and just as it happened last year against San Francisco, flying across the country for the last game of the season isn't going to change that.

Titans (-6) over SEAHAWKS

Chris Johnson is going to have a HUGE game.

Bengals (+10) over JETS

I haven't been able to figure out the Bengals all season, so why wouldn't they keep this game close while they have nothing to play for?

Last week: 5-9-2
Season: 126-107-7

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Amid distraction, Wizards lose to Spurs

It's not surprising that the Wizards lost to the Spurs, especially with the current off-court distractions disrupting the team's focus on improvement. However, with one quarter left to play, the Wizards led the Spurs 71-70 and had a strong chance of winning the game.

And then the fourth quarter started. The Spurs turned up the defensive pressure, and the Wizards started to settle for jump shots instead of attacking the rim. Believe it or not, the Wizards actually outscored the Spurs 34-16 in the paint, but only four of those points came in the fourth quarter. The Wizards also failed to shoot a single free throw in the final frame.

Meanwhile, the Spurs took a lot of jump shots too, but they collectively shot over 50 percent from the field in the game and ran their offense efficiently in the fourth quarter to get plenty of open looks. They also got to the free throw line eight times in the quarter -- and made all eight of them.

The Wizards put forth a strong effort against a very good team, but the performance wasn't unlike what the team has shown this season. They had a chance to win but just didn't seize the opportunity with enough big plays in crunch time.

As for statistical notes, Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison scored 23, 24, and 17 points, respectively. Arenas shot too much (10-25 from the field), while the other two were more effective with fewer shots. Brendan Haywood chipped in four points (on only five shots) and nine rebounds, while Andray Blatche, getting the start at power forward, scored five points (on six shots) and grabbed six rebounds.

Fabricio Oberto played 14 minutes and DeShawn Stevenson played seven minutes, so Flip Saunders must have really been desperate to try to improve the team's defensive effort. They both played hard, and they're decent defenders, but they contributed about nothing on offense (three combined points). I'm not really sure what kind of message that sends to Dominic McGuire (one minute) and Nick Young (DNP).

Overall, the Wizards were outrebounded by just one (37-36) had 17 assists (and nine turnovers).

Latest links/reports on the Arenas gun situation

In case you haven't heard by now, according to multiple sources, Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton apparently had some sort of heated confrontation earlier this season, and the two may have been holding guns during the ordeal. There are conflicting reports out right now about the severity of the confrontation between the two, but here is some of the latest information on the situation.

Marc Stein, ESPN:

A dispute that began on the team plane and resumed more than 24 hours later in the team's locker room between Washington Wizards guards Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton is at the center of an investigation by local and federal authorities into Arenas' recent admission of gun possession on Wizards property, according to sources close to the situation.

Multiple sources told that an argument commenced during a card game on the team's overnight flight back to Washington from Phoenix on Dec. 19 and escalated into a heated exchange between Arenas and Crittenton. The Wizards had Dec. 20 off, but sources say the hostilities resumed Dec. 21 in the locker room on a practice day.

Sources say that Arenas, in response to what was said on the flight, placed three guns he owns on a chair near Crittenton's locker stall and invited him to pick one before practice on Dec. 21. Sources said that Crittenton subsequently let Arenas know that he had his own gun.

Michael Lee, Washington Post:

When contacted by phone on Friday, Arenas's father, Gilbert Sr., also denied that Arenas and Crittenton pulled weapons on each other. "From the respect of guns being pulled in the locker room and at each other, yes, that's ludicrous," Arenas Sr. said. "Him bringing the guns to the locker room to keep away from his kids, that's true. Gil did not pull a gun on anybody. That's about all that I can say."

. . . According to two sources close to the team, Crittenton and Arenas had a disagreement on the team plane on the Wizards flight from Phoenix on Dec. 19. The reason for the dispute is unclear, but it may have been over a card game.

A person who has spoken with Arenas recently said that the incident involving Crittenton was "nothing more than horseplay" and that there was never any intent to physically harm Crittenton. The person also said the argument between Arenas and Crittenton was over "who had the bigger gun."

Surely there's more to come, but I believe these are the two stories with the most up-to-date information. As always, it's a good idea to head over to Bullets Forever and Truth About It for more coverage on this situation and its ramifications.