Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wizards lose to Heat by 16, are far from embarrassing

I'm always going to be a Wizards fan, but there hasn't been much to cheer about lately. Sure, the Wizards beat the Jazz on Monday -- wins are always good -- but that came after a four-game losing streak, and a six-game losing streak before that. You get the idea. Going into last night's game, the Wizards were 18-55, everyone keeps getting hurt (most recently Trevor Booker, who's fun to watch), and at this point the Wizards and other losing teams are basically jockeying for position in the upcoming NBA Draft.

But something about the team's effort last night against the Heat (a 123-107 loss) made me proud. Maybe it's that the Wizards are without the following players: Nick Young, Rashard Lewis, Josh Howard, and Booker. (Andray Blatche returned from an injury last night.) Maybe it's that Othyus Jeffers (who, with 15 points and eight rebounds, had a solid game) played 29 minutes and Cartier Martin played 18. But no, that's only part of it.

Early in the second quarter, John Wall and Zydrunas Ilgauskas got into a little skirmish. Ilgauskas had the ball and Wall was swiping at it, going for a steal. Ilgauskas, trying to fend off Wall (or something), ended up elbowing Wall twice, which obviously didn't make the rookie too happy. Understandably, Wall took exception -- after all, who likes being elbowed in the head? -- and threw a forearm into Ilgauskas's midsection. Watch the play for yourself:

As Wall and Ilgauskas argued and nearly squared off, the coaches ran onto the court to separate the players. Trying to protect Wall, JaVale McGee rushed in and shoved Ilgauskas, and Juwan Howard came to Ilgauskas's defense and went after McGee. Howard also had some words for Flip Saunders as he was on his way to break up the scuffle.

Wall and Ilgauskas received flagrant twos and were ejected for their actions. Howard received only a technical foul, but he was also ejected for basically looking to fight. McGee was given a technical foul but was allowed to stay in the game. (It's also worth noting that Ilgauskas was "offering fans a double-bird salute on his way to the locker room.")

Regardless of how poorly the Wizards have played this season, Wall and McGee refused to back down from Ilgauskas and the all-mighty Heat. Without Wall, the Wizards lost their best player for the rest of the game, yet they all continued to battle. Jordan Crawford took control of the offense, and it almost seemed like he made it his mission to keep the Wizards in the game. He ended up with 39 points on 12-24 shooting, also making all 10 of his free throws. He ended up with only four assists -- he loves to shoot and was hoisting up plenty of shots in the game already -- but in his crafty style, he was still driving to the basket on occasion with relative ease and was setting up his teammates with pretty good shots when he felt the need to do so. But yeah, in terms of a shooting conscience, he's similar to Nick Young (which isn't a revelation).

After a Crawford three-pointer cut the deficit to one (91-90) with 9:27 to go in the fourth quarter, the Heat finally started to pull away. At the end, accounting for both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade proved to be too difficult.

In most cases, moral victories don't mean a whole lot. They're usually just a way for a losing team to take something positive away from a loss. But in this situation, the severely short-handed Wizards took on one of the most talented teams in the league, played without their best player from the second quarter on, and stayed right with the Heat for a majority of the game. The Wizards need to get more talented; no one would question that. But the way the team played and refused to let the Heat walk all over them after Wall departed, when it could have easily happened -- that's something this franchise can build on.

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