MIKE WISE 

Saunders, Wizards keep pounding away

"You have to understand, most teams that win have continuity. Over the last year and a half, this is our fifth team," says Wizards Coach Flip Saunders, with rookie John Wall.
"You have to understand, most teams that win have continuity. Over the last year and a half, this is our fifth team," says Wizards Coach Flip Saunders, with rookie John Wall. (Toni L. Sandys)

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By Mike Wise
Friday, January 7, 2011

Flip Saunders said he sometimes sleeps just two hours a night. "If I get four, that's good," he said. "I live for 10-minute catnaps." Tie askew, often the haggard portrait of a beaten-down working man, Saunders by most games' end is that umbrella-less man caught in a downpour, running toward a Metro stop to escape his miserable job downtown.

Coaching the Washington Wizards will do this to anyone. But Flip Saunders isn't anyone.

He once had perhaps the best team in the NBA before an injury to Sam Cassell killed any shot Minnesota had of unseating the Lakers in the Western Conference seven years ago. After that, he had a playoff-tested Detroit club on the doorstep. And he came to Washington in the summer of 2009 with big, contending plans for Gilbert Arenas and a talented, veteran team.

Now he has to tell Andray Blatche to get his 6-foot-11 behind inside the paint, because all the three-pointers in the world will not make him Dirk Nowitzki.

Now he has to tell John Wall to cool his jets, because no one wins with one guy going 120 mph and getting to the rim before the other four snails have crossed midcourt.

Now it is January 2011 and everybody good he came here to coach is gone and everybody left has eight victories, 25 losses and last won a road game when Gene Shue was coach. (Okay, it was April 9, 2010, a mere nine-month drought.)

"If I had a dime for every time someone said, 'Hang in there' . . . " Saunders said, his voice rising.

Yes, he actually gets miffed when people tell him that.

And that's where this script is indeed Flipped.

Shockingly, Saunders doesn't view this as NBA purgatory - and that's not just because he makes $4 million per year and stays in really nice hotels with 24-hour room service.

"In our league, there is winning and misery - but it's not total misery," he said. "I see myself as a teacher before a coach. And in that way, you're putting all the time in with the idea that you're making individuals better."

Blatche has better numbers and more of an offensive skill set than at any time in his career. But his game is pillow-soft many nights, replete with 19-footers and fadeaways when all he had to do was go straight up and draw a foul.


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