By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 5, 2008
The Redskins experienced it when FedEx Field was practically taken over by gold-and-black-wearing Pittsburgh Steelers fans for a "Monday Night Football" game, and the Capitals regularly get a taste of it when the Buffalo Sabres or Pittsburgh Penguins come to town.
Tonight, the Wizards will play a home game in front of thousands of fans wearing the opposing team's colors, in this case, the purple and gold of the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers sport a Western Conference-best 15-2 record, have one of the game's biggest names in Kobe Bryant and traditionally draw well wherever they go. But it certainly doesn't help that the Wizards are 3-13, are down one superstar (Gilbert Arenas) and dropped to an uninspiring 2-7 at Verizon Center with a 98-92 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.
"It's always been like that, Lakers fans come out of the woodwork when they come to town," said Wizards forward Caron Butler, who played for the Lakers during the 2004-05 season. "I had a chance to be a rock star for a moment. It was one of the down years, but it was definitely a great time in my career to go through that. That's why we have to have energy and effort. Numbers don't lie. Energy and effort don't lie. Fans respect what they see, and they salute you if they see that. But if the effort is low, it will be what it's gonna be."
Tonight's game was not sold out as of yesterday afternoon, but a big crowd is expected and the Wizards would like to put on a good show for their fans.
"We need to give a good performance so that the vast majority of people in our colors are yelling loud enough that they are drowning out those people in the purple and gold," said Wizards Coach Ed Tapscott, a Washington native. "So it's on us to recognize that the vast majority of people will be Wizards fans."
The Wizards played a solid game against a strong Trail Blazers squad Wednesday night before a string of fourth-quarter breakdowns led to a loss in front of a crowd of 12,802. Tapscott emphasized those breakdowns in a lengthy film session yesterday morning.
Butler and fellow all-star Antawn Jamison have formed the highest-scoring forward tandem in the league (42.2 points per game), yet the Wizards continue to lose, illustrating the tiny margin for error the team is working with.
"It's very small," Tapscott said. "We talked about that pretty emphatically, about margin of error and about making plays along the way. Not waiting for the guts of the game to make plays you should've been making throughout the game. We lost by six [Wednesday night]. If we had made one play in the first quarter, one in the second quarter, one more in the third and fourth, we win. Just one play. Just one. That's the attention to detail and the focus on execution we are talking about."
The Wizards cruised to a 108-88 win at New Jersey on Tuesday night because of a combination of crisp ball movement, excellent performances by starting guards Dee Brown and DeShawn Stevenson, and solid team defense.
One night later, the Wizards shot a healthy 50.7 percent and committed only 11 turnovers but could not overcome a quiet effort by Butler (16 points), low output by guards Brown, Stevenson and Antonio Daniels (a combined 16 points), and a failure to keep Portland guard Brandon Roy out of the paint in the fourth quarter.
Those could all be huge problems against a balanced Lakers team that features not only Bryant's shooting and slashing skills but also a low-post scorer such as Pau Gasol and outside shooting threats such as Vladimir Radmanovic and Derek Fisher.
That those players will be cheered on in the Wizards' own building adds special flavor to the game.
"You notice it on the bench," said Wizards guard and Los Angeles native Nick Young, who grew up a Lakers fan. "Everybody cheering for the other team at times and us getting booed a little bit. But if we go out there and play hard, they'll be behind us. Just make sure we're diving on the floor and doing all of those kinds of things, and they'll have our backs. But it's on us to play well."