-Andray Blatche started at center tonight, instead of JaVale McGee. Coach Tapscott mentioned that the Wizards have fallen behind early in recent games, and he thought Blatche, instead of the McGee, would be able to stop the bleeding. He specifically mentioned that he likes the way Blatche plays defense with Antawn Jamison, especially in the paint. Tonight, Blatche finished with an impressive 19 points, but he grabbed just 2 rebounds in 32 minutes of play.
-Speaking of McGee, Coach Tapscott said that he has had a tough month or so, having to play against the likes of Rasheed Wallace, Kendrick Perkins, Andrew Bynum, Samuel Dalembert and Kevin Garnett. Coach mentioned that is a tough stretch for a veteran, let alone a 20-year-old rookie. McGee’s numbers have dipped overall as a starter, so Coach wants McGee to watch more of the game from the bench, learn from Songalia and Blatche, and then apply what he’s learned when he’s finally inserted in the game. McGee only played nine minutes tonight, despite constant pleas from the fans for him to play more. He had two impressive blocks this evening, but other than that, he was a non-factor.
-Etan Thomas is inactive this evening because he is undergoing a routine heart checkup at the Mayo Clinic. Coach Tapscott stressed that this was routine. Oleksiy Pecherov will be activated tonight as a result. Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Darius Songalia are expected to mostly man the center position in Thomas’ absence.
-My fellow Hoops Addict colleague Ryan McNeil did a story on Indiana Pacers guard, Stephen Graham, and his brother Joey the other day. When I arrived on the court this morning, the first player out on the court working on this ballhandling, his shot, and his conditioning was Stephen Graham. It seems as if Graham is really making a conscious effort to do everything in his power to earn more playing time, and that includes being the first man out there. Graham was only in for a minute this evening, but he was an enthusiastic cheerleader on the bench, often the first player to jump up and cheer when one of this teammates made a positive play.
-In Coach Eddie Jordan’s last game before he got fired, he expressed frustration over his team’s lack of defensive effort. He stressed the defense was not just a concept, but it was a state of mind, and he wished his team played as such. Tonight in his pre-game press conference, Pacers head coach Jim O’Brien expressed the same type of frustration with his team. He said his team played an excellent third quarter of defense against the Milwaukee Bucks, and he mentioned they played well defensively in the fourth quarter against the Pistons, but they had yet to put an entire game of defense together. He attributed that lack of defense to his team’s six game slide. Tonight, after giving up 35 points in a third quarter that saw their 14 point halftime lead dwindle to four points, the Pacers clamped down on defense in the fourth quarter, and allowed 15 points, while scoring 31.
-When asked about the number of coaches that had been fired over the 23 games or so of the season (including Reggie Theus just yesterday), Coach O’Brien said it was disappointing because he considers some of these guys to be good friends. He joked that agents often negotiate a young coach’s contract as if they are going to get fired soon because their shelf life seems to be so brief. On a more serious note though, Coach O’Brien said that he did not fear for his job security at all because President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird told him that it was pretty obvious this was not a 50 win team, and he knew it would take awhile to turn things around.
-Pacers’ center and former Georgetown Hoyas center Roy Hibbert said he wasn’t that nervous coming back to DC to play for the first time. He said he wore his Georgetown hat in the arena, and he felt like he had inside knowledge of the court, the rims and the crowd, and he didn’t expect to get booed at all. Hibbert also said that the more minutes he gets, the more comfortable he feels. When asked about Hibbert, Coach O’Brien echoed those sentiments. He also said that Hibbert was one of the more fundamentally sound players he’s coached, which he directly attributes to Georgetown. He did say Hibbert, like all rookie big men including JaVale McGee, continues to adjust to the defensive rotations of the NBA, but that is an ongoing process. Hibbert picked up three fouls in the first six minutes of the first quarter, and he ended up with two points, and just two rebounds. Conversely, Rasho Nesterovic, who had been starting for the Pacers, ended up with 12 points, with six-of-six shooting from the field.
-When speaking about how he would deal with Hibbert’s minutes, Coach O’Brien said that would greatly depend on how big or small the Wizards’ lineup was at any given moment. Coach O’Brien said that with the exception of the Lakers and sometimes the Toronto Raptors, most teams preferred to play smaller, more agile big men rather than play the traditional big men like Hibbert. He said he wouldn’t let that discourage him from starting Hibbert, but could possibly curtail his playing time down the stretch.
-I saw an interesting stat before the game that said the winning percentage of the Wizards 23 opponents so far this season is .576, which is the second toughest in the NBA. The team who has played the toughest schedule record-wise so far this season? The Indiana Pacers, whose opponents have a .602 winning percentage so far this season. This doesn’t ease the pain of the Wizards 4-18 start, but it does explain why they continue to struggle.
-The night started with promise for DeShawn Stevenson when he took the ball strong to the hoop, got fouled and then made the free throw for the Wizards’ first three points of the game. Unfortunately, he only scored one more basket the remainder of the night, and he fouled out with six points. Stevenson and point guard Juan Dixon combined for 11 points and six assists. The starting backcourt of the Pacers, T.J. Ford and Marquis Daniels, combined for 36 points, 12 assists and 13 rebounds. This disparity in backcourt play continues to be the main reason for the Wizards’ demise. Dixon has been playing well of late, so this was just an off game for him. Stevenson has been consistently bad all year, yet his place in the starting lineup seems secure. Even on defense, where Stevenson has made such a name for himself in prior years, there is noticeable slippage. Danny Granger and Marquise Daniels routinely went by him and scored at will.
-Speaking of Stevenson, after the game, Tapscott was asked why he didn’t start second year guard Nick Young in his place, and if Young was in the doghouse. Tapscott responded by saying, “I don’t have a doghouse. I have a Palace of Good Play and I am waiting for someone to emerge with some good play from that two guard spot. When I see that, and when I see someone who is willing to play off our forwards, then I’ll play them.” Tapscott continues to maintain, and justifiably so, that this Gilbert Arenas-less offense must run through Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison.
-Marquis Daniels, who had trouble distinguishing himself during his first two years at Indiana, has really stepped up all facets of his game this year. He’s averaging career highs in points (15.2) and rebounds (5.4), and he’s playing much more aggressively than he has in year’s past. Tonight he had an excellent all-around game by scoring 20 points, dishing out six assists and grabbing eight rebounds. More importantly, he was the perfect compliment to Danny Granger.
-Speaking of players who have stepped up this year, Granger has stepped his game up from really good player to All-Star. The stat sheet will show 27 points, five assists, nine rebounds and five steals, but to truly appreciate his value during this game, you have to dig a bit deeper. Each and every time the Wizards would gain momentum, Granger would call for the ball and make the right pass or take the big shot to help shut them down. He is clearly the leader of this team, but much like Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, he doesn’t quite have enough help to really demonstrate what he can do. This team is still one player away from being really good, but in the meantime, it’s a joy watching Granger carry this team.
-The lack of defensive rebounds absolutely killed the Wizards tonight. The Pacers, led by Jeff Foster with seven and Daniels with five, had 23 offensive rebounds to the Wizards’ 11. Antawn Jamison had a yeoman effort on the boards with 15, but from the center position the Wizards were only able to muster seven rebounds. This repeatedly allowed the Pacers to both start fastbreaks and extend possessions. And as Jamison said after the game, “When you’re struggling as much as we are, you can’t just give away baskets like that.”
– One of the glaring weaknesses on this Washington Wizards squad is the lack of three-point shooting, and that was again obvious tonight. There were many possessions where the Wizards would move the ball inside and out perfectly, and they would get an open shot, and Stevenson, Dixon, Young, Mike James, and even Butler, at times, would just miss. After awhile, the Pacers were not as vigilant in running after the Wizards’ shooters because they had faith they would miss. Meanwhile, former Wizard and current San Antonio Spur, Roger Mason Jr. is shooting 46.7% from 3-point land and averaging a career high 13.3 points.
-The Wizards continue to find themselves having to fight back from huge deficits without much success. After one quarter they were down by six; at halftime they were down by 14 points and at one point early in the third quarter they found themselves down by 16. Then Blatche, Butler and Jamison took over, and the Wizards actually tied the game with 55 seconds left in the third quarter, 83-83. Then they turned the ball over twice and went down four at the end of the third quarter. At that point, the Wizards seemingly lost steam and energy, and the Pacers went on a 25-9 run in the fourth quarter before garbage time officially began. Considering Tapscott adjusted the starting lineup to avoid these types of early deficit/late comeback type situations, this has to be particularly discouraging.
-For the first time all season, Caron Butler was visibly frustrated during the game. After the 34 point loss to the Celtics last week, Butler was so upset after the game that he stormed out and brushed past additional reporters waiting to talk to him. Tonight, in the second half when the Wizards were struggling the most, Butler would come down and try to dribble through all five Pacers’ players to make something happen. Because Butler is talented, he was able to score or draw the foul some of the time, but other times he’d turn the ball over or leave his other four teammates open calling for the ball. During garbage time, Butler was visibly upset, and he was chewing on his ever-present straw much harder than usual. Considering he is in the prime of his career, this has to be extremely frustrating for him.
-Speaking of frustrated, I also saw Andray Blatche extremely irritated after the game. He said that this was the first year he’s seen his team play so badly, and that even in year’s past when they started slow, they always played hard and believed they could turn things around. This year, Blatche commented that the effort on defense is poor, the rebounding is non-existent, and he stressed that until Haywood and Arenas come back, everyone, including himself, needs to step it up. I had never seen Blatche so upset and passionate about his team’s performance. Antawn Jamison said later on that it was his responsibility as team captain to make sure his teammates didn’t point fingers but held themselves accountable for their actions. Perhaps his word resonated with Blatche this evening.
– I usually go into the winning locker room after I cover a game, but tonight I wanted to see how a bad loss effects the beat writers, the coach, the players and even the fans. I’ll be writing an article on that soon so stay tuned.
– I won’t be in attendance for the next Wizards home game on Friday against Philadelphia, but check back for my notes after Sunday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks.
-Final Score: Indiana 118 Wizards 98
Photo Credit: Chris Creamer’s Sports Logos