Remember the preseason hype?
Gilbert Arenas was coming back to the hardwood. The Wizards were going to be so good. The Hawks were going to battle THEM for the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference this year, NOT the other way around. The Wizards were going to challenge, and possibly go further. But it was not to be. Of course, the national media wanted Agent Zero back so bad, they kept pumping it up. Agent Zero isn’t talking, and it’s a good thing, they said. Agent Zero this, Agent Zero that. But the wins just weren’t coming. Agent Zero was what it was always about, what it has always been about. After recent events that I’m sure everybody is now aware of, the Age of Agent Zero may have finally come to an end in Washington. It’s too soon to tell, really. But a new era may be dawning.
This team is determined to make things up to their fans, as evidenced by the seemingly heartfelt pre-game speech made by Washington forward Antawn Jamison a night or two ago. These guys want to restore some respect and competitiveness to their names. They want to become the Wizards again, not Zero and his band of ball players. That alone makes them dangerous. Could it be that this team finally presents a true challenge for the Hawks now, minus Zero?
HAWKS VS WIZARDS
Even as fans, it’s easy to get caught in the trap of “oh, we should beat that team with no problem.” So it can be for players, I’m sure. Washington may as well be our polar opposite in the win-loss column, as they stand at 12 and 24, with us soaring at 25 and 13. But they are also a team that has recently beaten the Orlando Magic. Oh yea, THOSE guys. The ones we can’t even compete with. So what, you say. That doesn’t prove anything. They also lost to the Pistons and the Hornets. Um, so did we. Which leaves one to thinking that maybe the Wizards match up rather well with us….minus Zero, that is. The question is, will that matchup be in our favor, or theirs?
With Arenas out indefinitely, the Wiz will probably go with Randy Foye and Mike Miller, bringing Nick Young off the bench. Foye is a fairly quick combo guard with decent size, who can also draw fouls on his way to the basket. In his last three games, he has averaged right around 20 points per contest. His assist numbers for the season have been anything but impressive, but in the last two games, his playmaking ability has resurfaced. Suffice it to say that Bibby will have his work cut out for him. Bibby struggled in the last meeting between these two teams, though his assist/turnover numbers were pretty good (7 to 1). Bibby will have to shoot well AND help keep Foye from penetrating at will. If not, then the job will fall to Joe Johnson or the switching defense. Or, we could see a heavy dose of Jamal Crawford. Whether or not Teague sees any significant time remains to be seen. The same could be said of the improvement of his shooting percentage….
Off the ball, the Wizards are at an assumed disadvantage. When they’re not stuck trying to figure out how to guard Joe Johnson, they’ll be chasing after Jamal Crawford. Wizards head coach Flip Saunders may dig deep and have veteran Deshawn Stevenson guard Joe or Jamal if either is lighting up Young and Miller. Or, he may have to switch Caron Butler onto him. Either way, the matchup should be in the Hawks’ favor.
In the last matchup, Al Horford traded performance statistics with the bigger, taller Brendan Haywood. While Haywood outscored Horford 19 to 10, Horford outrebounded Haywood 12 to 9, and blocked 5 shots, to Haywood’s 2 rejections. The difference was at power forward, however, where Josh Smith was more than Fabricio Oberto and Andray Blatche could handle. His 8 rebounds nearly matched the combined efforts of the two Wizard players (9), and added to a Hawks overall advantage of 47 to 40. In addition, Marvin Williams added a solid 9 rebounds of his own, to go along with 10 points. Caron Butler played only 17 minutes and didn’t muster much in that time period (I think he incurred an injury, if I recall correctly). But somebody was missing from the party. Antawn Jamison, to be exact. Washington’s resident 20 and 10 man will be present for THIS contest, and he promises to be a load. While Jamison and Smith share near identical rebounding numbers, there is a bigger difference in scoring. Jamison has dipped below 20 points in just one of his last nine games, and has recored better than 25 points in 5 of his last 6. It’s not just that he can score, it’s that he can score from anywhere he chooses, as 37% shooting from the three point arc will attest to.
Truth be told, the individual matchup between Antawn Jamison and Josh Smith may just be the most pivotal one of the game. Or, it may not. What do you think?
Bench Mob and The Suits
What with the latest “developments”, Flip Saunders finds himself in an unenviable position. Mike Woodson may not be happy about his contract status, but I’ll bet he wouldn’t want to trade places with Saunders right about now. Yes, sometimes your grass is definitely the greener side. In any case, Woodson’s rotation is fairly well set. Saunders? Not so much. Anybody in the starting lineup could spend more time on the bench in this game if things aren’t going so well, and anybody expecting to get splinters may find themselves getting significant minutes. So, comparing benches is probably a bit difficult to do. Instead, let’s discuss who we figure will make the biggest contribution from the bench.
My pick is Andray Blatche. Nick Young might be a more exciting and daring pick, but he is less consistent with his shooting stroke, and will be facing two veteran guards who are prolific scorers. Blatche on the other hand, can be a matchup problem. A near seven footer with a good shooting stroke out to about 20 feet, Blatche can put up 10-15 points rather quickly and efficiently. He brings with him decent rebounding (over 5 a game in less than 23 mpg), and decent shooting (47% from the field, 76% from the line).
Bottom line, the Wiz are hungry for respect and would like to shed the bad vibes associated with the recent drama and all the losing. Meanwhile, the Hawks have to be happy about their recent mastery of the Celtics. For now, they have to re-focus on being consistent, and beating the teams they should beat.
One to Watch Out For
As usual, there is one guy who can really turn a game. He may not score 40 points, or grab 20 rebounds. He may not get 15 assists. But he’ll hurt you in so many not-as-obvious ways, and his effect can be felt well beyond his position. Who is that guy for the Wizards, that the Hawks need be wary of?
Here, my pick is Mike Miller. Why? Miller is pretty good at ball movement, and when he gets hot, he’s hard to stop. On defense, he’s no star, but he’s opportunistic in the passing lanes, so no lazy passes around this guy. Don’t sleep on this guy. Having only played 11 games this season, and averaging just 9 points a game, Miller may not seem like much of a contributor. However, he is also starting in each of the games he has played in, and getting over 28 mpg. The real kicker? Miller is shooting 58% from the field, and 60% from the three point line.