Nothing Much to Shout About
Monday, April 16, 2007
Even as the losses stacked up following injuries to all-stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, the Washington Wizards took pride in making playoff-bound teams such as the Cleveland Cavaliers, New Jersey Nets and Miami Heat work hard to beat them.
Yesterday, the Wizards were competitive only from the standpoint that they physically showed up for a matinee against the Chicago Bulls, a team that appears to be fine-tuning for a long postseason run.
With a lineup further depleted by the absence of veteran guard Antonio Daniels, who suffered a lower back contusion on a nasty fall during Friday's win at Atlanta, the Wizards fell behind 12-0 to open the game and never threatened the Bulls in an embarrassing 101-68 loss.
Hounded by Chicago's pressure defense from opening tap to final buzzer, the Wizards shot 33.8 percent, were outrebounded 57-42 and finished with a season-low 68 points.
"Today, it didn't look like anybody came out and played with the energy we needed," said forward Andray Blatche, who missed all five of his shots and finished with one point and three rebounds in 17 minutes. "It was just a bad game for us overall. They came in here ready to play and we did not."
With two games remaining (tomorrow at Verizon Center against Orlando and Wednesday at Indiana) the Wizards (40-40) hold a one-game lead over the seventh-place New Jersey Nets, who won at Indiana yesterday afternoon.
The Nets play at New York tonight and host the Bulls on Wednesday. Should the Wizards and Nets wind up tied, the Nets would win the tiebreaker because they swept the season series.
Yesterday's victory gave the Bulls (49-32) a half-game lead over third-place Cleveland. If the Wizards drop into seventh place while the Bulls remain in second, the teams would meet in a first-round series that would open at Chicago's United Center, where the Bulls are 31-10 and own a six-game winning streak over Washington.
Even with Arenas and Butler, the Wizards were beaten soundly twice in Chicago this season and yesterday's game offered no evidence that the current version of the Wizards have enough to push the Bulls in a postseason series.
Second-year guard Donell Taylor made his second career start at point guard and scored 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting with five assists. He and fellow guards DeShawn Stevenson, Jarvis Hayes and Roger Mason struggled to handle Chicago's intense defensive pressure.
"Make shots, that's the only way to counter the defense they play," said Hayes, who made 1 of 5 shots in the first half and never established a groove. "The open looks aren't going to be there against that team, so you have to make the shots you do get."
Antawn Jamison was swarmed all game long, missed his first seven shots and wound up with eight points on 3-of-12 shooting. Arenas made a brief appearance at the arena before the game -- his first since undergoing left knee surgery on April 5 -- and stopped by the locker room to chat with teammates but left before tip-off without speaking at length with reporters.
"If I can't play, it's hard for me to even be around basketball," Arenas said.
Jordan said he has not spoken with his all-star guard since the night of the injury and has not requested that Arenas attend practices or games.
Butler, who has been out since injuring his hand on April 1, has attended practices and sat on the bench at home games, including yesterday's, when he enthusiastically supported his teammates throughout.
"Gil is Gil," Jordan said. "He's very, very different. There's nothing that we are making mandatory for him unless our front office, you know, has a different idea for him. I know how Gil is. We all know how Gil is. So, there's nothing mandatory for me."
Life without Arenas and Butler will only get more difficult if the Wizards don't bring more energy and execute better than they did against the Bulls.
"Today we took a giant step backwards but this team has always found a way to respond and really come up and play better than we did after a night like this," Jamison said. "It's just one of those nights that we didn't get it done."