Prior to the Washington Wizards last meeting against the Utah Jazz on March 13th, Shaun Livingston was feeling pretty good about himself and his game. Against the Orlando Magic, just his eighth game as a Wizard, Livingston scored 18 points and dished out eight assists in just 31 minutes of play. Coach Flip Saunders made a point after the game, to praise Livingston’s decision-making ability, and just two nights later, he was rewarded with the starting point guard slot.
Unfortunately for Shaun, his first start as a Wizard came against arguably the best point guard in the game, Deron Williams.
Williams not only outplayed Livingston, but he wore out Randy Foye (the previous starting point guard) and Earl Boykins. Livingston started that game strong, by blocking two of Williams shots, but in the end, Williams was just too strong, too experienced, and too good. Williams had 17 points, 11 assists and six rebounds. Livingston finished with six points, three rebounds and zero assists. The Jazz won that game, 112-89.
Last night, the Jazz were back in town, and once again, they blew out the Wizards, 103-87. Williams was his usual brilliant self with 20 points and 12 assists, but despite the loss, Livingston played better this time around. He had 14 points, three assists, and three rebounds, and he showed much more aggression than he had during that March 13th meeting.
After the game, I asked Livingston about his matchup against Williams, what he can learn from a player of that stature, how is health is progressing, and what he does to stay positive despite his team’s 15-game losing streak.
Rashad Mobley: I know how tough it looks from my vantage point, but you’re right there on the court, so tell me what it’s like going up against Deron Williams?
Shaun Livingston: Man, he’s the best point guard in the league. Hands down. Maybe not the most valuable one, obviously Steve Nash means a little more to his team. But you talk about size, skill, the combination of both, I mean he causes the most mismatches for any guard including myself. Even though I have a few inches on him, I still give up at least 30lbs, so that gives him and advantage going to the hole and drawing a lot of contact.
RM: Even though you’re in the midst of the game, do you learn anything from him?
SL: Definitely. I watch how he controls the tempo. He does a great job of pushing in transition and creating fast break points. I mean, you think of Utah, and you think of a slow half-court set team, and they are great at that. But when he’s pushing the ball and they are running, they are just as good, and he’s hard to guard. So I definitely watch that, and try to learn.
RM: I noticed a couple of times when you went down to the post, you had some success against him. Why was that play not called more often?
SL: You know what? That is partly my fault. I’m new and all, but that’s part of my responsibility of being a leader. I have to call my own play if it looks like a match-up is in my favor. A lot of times, I get in my own head and I don’t want to be that selfish point guard, who is all about his own game. But I’m sure when I look back at the tape, I’ll kick myself for not trying to take him in the post. I mean on the Utah side, Deron went to the post as soon as Earl[Boykins] checked into the game for me. And then even with the big men, they tried to give the ball to [Carlos] Boozer whenever [Andray]Blatche was guarding him, because Boozer has the weight advantage. So I have to recognize those match-ups. But again, that’s part of my maturation process you know? As I get healthier and my knee gets stronger, I can start fine tuning my point guard duties. But yeah, that play was working, and it’s up to me to call it.
RM: Speaking of injuries, I remember talking to Grant Hill about the recovery process from his injury, and he said that every now and then, he would do something on the court that surprised him, and reminded him of what he could do pre-injury. He said that’s how he knew he was closer to being 100%. In the past week, we’ve seen you dunk on Pau Gasol and tonight you threw it down on Carlos Boozer. Did those plays surprise you and make you say, “Wow I’m back!”
SL: I actually could do plays like that more often, but its more about the opportunity. When it presents itself, I just have to go for it and stop thinking about it. Again, like I said before, I get in my own head sometimes. I need to get in the lane and just dunk it, instead of finger rolling, laying it up and all that. Going back to Deron Williams again, he drives hard, tries to dunk, and he draws fouls without any hesitation. I think the more I go hard into the lane, maybe teams will stop jumping and trying to contest me, so I can get some easy baskets[starts to laugh].
RM: Have you allowed yourself to think about what it would be like sharing a backcourt with Gilbert Arenas, now that it looks like he just might be back next year?
SL: Man, that would be great. I mean Gilbert is known around the league as a scoring guard during his career, and I think if I were running the point, that would free things up for him tremendously. Then obviously it opens the floor for me a bit as well. Plus I’m 6’7″, he’s 6’4″, a backcourt like that is a handful on both ends of the floor. Ok, yeah, I’m getting excited just talking about that[laughs heartily]. But seriously, a whole lot needs to happen for that to be a reality. I mean I don’t even know if the Wizards are bringing me back next year for sure, so I cant get too carried away.
RM: Do you have any regrets, especially around this time of year, about not going to college when you see all the excitement and hype around March Madness?
SL: Hell, yeah! I mean I’m happy with my decision to go pro and all that, even with my injury. But how can you not get caught up in that excitement as a player? And lets bring it back to Deron once again. He and Dee[Brown] led Illinois to the NCAA Final, and I bet if you asked Deron about that run, he’d talk about how much he improved as a player because of that. So most of the time, I’m cool with my decision and all that, but I can’t lie and say I don’t miss experiencing that.
RM: How do you personally keep from getting frustrated about this 15 game losing streak? I mean, you’re the starting point guard, and its your job to not only run the team, but to keep spirits up too?
SL: Honestly man, when you’ve been through what I’ve been through over the last few years,something like a 15 game losing streak doesn’t phase you. And I’m not saying I don’t care about the losing because I damn sure do. But the perspective I keep on this is always positive, because I’ve been in the mind state, when I wasn’t sure I was ever playing basketball again. So I look at this as a lesson for us to get better this year going into next year and I try to stay positive as possible. As a point guard, its my job to keep guys going, keep the ball moving and to stay positive too, so that’s what I’ll keep doing.