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Game Notes: Orlando vs. Washington

-Before every game, both coaches conduct a press conference discussing various things for the media.  Tonight, when I headed to Orlando’s dressing room, I saw TNT’s Dick Stockton and Mike Fratello, who both shook my hand, and we briefly discussed the Thanksgiving holiday, Eddie Jordan’s firing and whether the Philadelphia Eagles would be victorious this evening.  Then Stockton, Fratello and another TNT producer started discussing who would do the TNT Christmas Day doubleheader, and whether Marv Albert or Stockton would do the game.  Stockton’s voice is synonymous with the NBA, and to hear him discussing seemingly mundane topics with me and others was simply amazing.

-I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Patrick Ewing briefly before he started conducting shooting drills with the team.  I’ll post that interview here on Hoops Addict very soon.

-Coach Van Gundy mentioned that he has seen an attitude change in Dwight Howard since he came back from the Beijing Olympics.  He said Howard still is a joker who likes to play around, but now during practices and especially during games, he’s displaying a serious, more focused demeanor.  Van Gundy also mentioned that he’s playing well every game, as opposed to last year when he’d take games off at a time.

-I asked Stan Van Gundy if it was difficult to coach against someone who is as new as Coach Tapscott, and he said it was, but he was pretty sure that Tapscott wasn’t going to change his style from what he displayed against Golden State. Although later on during Tapscott’s press conference, he mentioned that he did indeed add some new wrinkles to the Wizards’ offense.

-Coach Van Gundy talked about fired Wizards coach Eddie Jordan briefly, and he said that he felt it was unfair that Jordan lost his job.  He mentioned that Coach Jordan never complained about repeatedly having to coach shorthanded, and his team was consistently a four or five seed in the playoffs.  He said that Jordan is one of the classier guys in the NBA, and he’d be back in the NBA very soon.  He likened Jordan to Scott Skiles who was fired by the Bulls, and then resurfaced in Milwaukee.

-Coach Tapscott joked that he didn’t watch any football on this Thanksgiving day, but he watched a tape of the Orlando Magic.  He said that unlike Golden State who seemingly had an off night, the Orlando Magic are highly competitive and come to play each and every night.

-Tapscott mentioned he knew his team’s play was partly due to the emotion of a new coach, and partly because Golden State had an off night.  He said the next few games would be a better indicator of how this team is going to play because the newness of his arrival would have worn off a bit.

-Tapscott also said rebounding and closing out on the thee-point shooters are two of his major points of focus this evening.  He said that Orlando basically keeps Howard in the middle, the rest of the players around the three-point line, so it was important that his players contest every shot. He added that the Magic, led by Dwight “Superman” Howard, were aggressive with rebounding, and he wanted his team to keep pace, since the Wizards have been outrebounded in almost every game.

-Antonio Daniels is healthy and will play tonight, but Coach Tapscott says he likes the energy and the speed that Dee Brown is playing with, so he will continue to start.  He said that Daniels handled it with class like the veteran he is.

-Coach Tapscott also mentioned that at several points tonight, he will play a two man game with Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison. He said one of them will be in the post, and the other will be on the perimeter on the same side of the floor. His hope is that the defense loads up on them and then leaves an open shooter on the other side of the ball.  And if they don’t load up on them, he hopes to exploit the one on one match-ups.  With the first score of the game for the Wizards, Butler passed to a cutting Jamison.

-Jameer Nelson was inactive this evening with a strained hip flexor, so veteran guard Anthony Johnson, who seemingly has played for every team in the NBA, got the starting nod this evening and he delivered.  He’s not flashy, and he’s not a big scorer; he just runs the team efficiently, the way a point guard should.  Tonight, he only scored seven points, but he handed out 12 assists, and he had no turnovers in 37 minutes of play. Conversely the Wizards’ point guards, Dee Brown, who guarded Johnson, and Antonio Daniels, combined for seven points, four assists, and three turnovers.   This just underscores the Wizards’ lack of a consistent point guard who can control the tempo and get the other four guys the ball.

-Dwight Howard single-handedly disrupted the Wizards tonight.  In the first quarter, JaVale McGee started on Howard, and then he picked up two quick fouls in less than three minutes.  Then Andray Blatche came in the game, and he picked two quick fouls as well.  Etan Thomas came into the game and did a solid job defensively, but he is of no help on the offensive side of the floor.  Forward Darius Songalia did the best job of slowing down Howard, but even he was overwhelmed by Howard’s strength and quickness. With McGee and Blatche plagued by fouls the entire game, Coach Tapscott was forced to use Songalia and Thomas for longer stretches than he wanted to, which disrupted the teams continuity on offense.  This was all because no one could handle Howard in the post.

-Speaking of Howard, his game has blossomed quite nicely.  Tonight, I saw him shoot hook shots with both hands, use the drop step to get to the rim, hit 70% of his free throws, and manage to stay out of foul trouble.  He finished with 26 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots.  As Caron Butler said after the game, “He has the potential to be one of the best centers ever.”  JaVale McGee has said before that he idolizes Howard, so hopefully he’s taking notes.  Howard was primarily a dunker when he came in the league, and now he’s hit the weight room, polished his game, and now he’s a bonafide center.  We’ll see if McGee follows suit.

-Orlando Magic guard J.J. Redick was booed each and every time he touched the ball this evening.  Redick’s alma mater, Duke University and the University of Maryland had many battles during Redick’s four-year college career, and he was booed at Maryland during all of them.  The combination of Redick’s cocky attitude, and the fact that Maryland generally hates Duke, made Redick an easy target.  Now, Redick is no longer the star; he’s just the second man off the bench who gets more playing time because of injuries to Magic guards Keith Bogans and Jameer Nelson.  Still, the Wizards/Maryland fans boo him like this is still college.

-Speaking of college, former Maryland star guard Juan Dixon did not play, despite numerous fans yelling at coach Tapscott to “Put Juan in.”  Tapscott spoke to Dixon before the game and told him that he probably would not play this evening because Orlando is such a big team.   But in the second half, when it was clear that no one had the hot hand, it would have been nice to see Dixon get a shot at some instant offense.

-Coach Tapscott had mentioned numerous times that he wanted to ride the performances of his two forwards, Jamison and Butler, but only Butler showed up this evening.  Butler was in the zone during the first half when he scored 19 points, and he was the only reason the Wizards were not getting blown out.  Jamison did not play aggressively at all in the first half, and although he grabbed nine rebounds, he only had six points.  In the second half, Orlando tightened up the defense on Butler, and he only had four points.  Jamison scored 11 points in the third quarter, but by that point, it was too late as Orlando had stretched their lead to 20 points.  This was a far cry from the win against Golden State, when both players were on fire at the same time.  Butler mentioned after the game that everyone needs to understand that 100% effort has to be given every night, not just when there is a new coach.  He seemed to be frustrated that no one picked up where they left off against Golden State.

-The boxscore will show that Etan Thomas played 15 minutes, scored six points and grabbed six rebounds, but Thomas easily should have had at least 15 points. He missed a couple of shots at close range, and he passed on others because he simply did not have his footwork set in the paint. On nights like tonight when his size and bulk were needed on the defensive end, it really would have been helpful if he were able to keep Howard honest on the defensive end, but he could not deliver.  I don’t know if Thomas is still getting his stamina back after being out all last year, or whether he just doesn’t have that other level in his game.  Brendan Haywood’s presence continues to be missed.  Brendan would score 10-15 a night, and then play hard post defense on the other end.  McGee is young; Blatche is better on the perimeter and Songalia, as good of a shooter as he is, simply cannot handle the skilled post players.

-Dee Brown, for all the heart and energy he plays with out there, is a liability on the offensive end of the floor.  Whoever is guarding Brown ends up sagging off of him defensively, so they can help with the other guards on the perimeter.  As a result, Brown is given at least 10 open looks during the course of the game, yet he rarely is able to make the other team pay.  He’ll either reject the opportunity to shoot and pass it, or he’ll shoot and miss terribly.  Tonight he shot 1-for-6 from the field, including 0-for-3 from the three-point line.

-Coach Tapscott talked to Andray Blatche before the game to let him know while he was impressed his 25 point effort against Golden State, he did not need or expect that number of points from Blatche every night.  He said it was more important that Blatche play hard every night and let the game come to him.  Tonight, Blatche only played 12 minutes and he had six points, six rebounds and most importantly six fouls.  He never got into any type of rhythm on the floor, and judging by his body language after each foul he was clearly frustrated.  When the Wizards take on the Hawks this Saturday, it will be very interesting to see how Blatche starts the game.

-Before Coach Tapscott came out for his post game press conference, one of the journalists in the room said, “I would love to be a fly on the wall in Eddie Jordan’s living room,” and I totally agree.  How the Wizards played this evening is the way that they’ve played the majority of the season under Coach Jordan.  There was a lack of effort on the defensive end of the floor, they did not close out the game well, and the continuity on the offensive side of the ball was non existent.  Even Coach Tapscott acknowledged that this season is a marathon, not a sprint, and he will be judged on his full body of work.  Still, it’s hard not to think about Coach Jordan and whether or not his firing really was the solution.

-DeShawn Stevenson has been struggling with his game and his shot, since he called out LeBron James during last year’s first round matchup with Cleveland.  Tonight, in 27 minutes of play, he handed out six assists, but he only scored six points, and he failed to do the I-can’t-feel-my-face dance.  For the season, he is only averaging eight points, despite averaging 37 minutes a game.  Coach Tapscott said after the game that the solution may be to get him a few layups to get his confidence back.  He also said that he was not concerned, because shooters shoot their out of slumps.  Prior to his firing, Eddie Jordan mentioned Stevenson had a nerve problem in his hamstring, but to his credit, Stevenson has not uttered a word about that publicly or privately.

Rashad Mobley
Rashad Mobley is a senior writer for Hoops Addict who has covered the Washington Wizards with media credentials since the 2008-2009 NBA season. He has appeared on Fox Sports Radio and KRNU 90.3.
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  • Ryan McNeill

    ESPN and then TNT? It’s been a big week for Washington in terms of national coverage, eh!

    It seems to be a theme that coaches around the NBA disagree with Jordan being canned. Hopefully he’s able to secure another head coaching gig this summer. I was reading this week in a NJ paper that Lawrence Frank was disgusted at the firing.

    Ahh, Juan Dixon… reading about his struggles are giving me flashbacks to last season when he was here in Toronto. He’s a great guy, he just doesn’t have the skill sets necessary to run the point. He’s a lethal gunner off the bench but he lacks the size and height to effectively guard other shooting guards in the NBA.

    I have McGee on my fantasy hoops team and his foul trouble is killing me. If he could stay in games and play 20-30 minutes he’d be a double-double threat each night. Throw in his blocks and he would be a huge fantasy hoops steal.

    I think Stevenson is similar to Anthony Parker here in Toronto: shooting guards who can score 20 the odd night but for the most part they focus on shutting down opponents top wing scorers. Stevenson might not stuff the stat sheet but like Parker he’s an integral part of your success (or lack of).

  • Rashad Mobley

    McGee and Nick Young are on my fantasy squad too. During garbage time last night, I was hoping one of them would get hot, but it never happened for me.

  • Jazzbrew

    The Wizard’s performance tonight was what I expected after the coaching change – same old story. If not for Butler blazing things in the first half the final score would have been worse. I can’t shake the fact that coach Jordan was thrown under the bus after several years of solid service. Change for sake of change…

  • iamse7en

    Yeah, a team like the Magic is poison for the Wizards. They struggle to guard all-star big men – even with Brendan Haywood. I expected the game to turn out like that.

    Nick Young can take anyone one-one-one. We’ve seen flashes of that. Sometimes he just doesn’t get enough touches, but he really is impressive. For a 2nd year guy, his ability to create his own shot is really remarkable. He has a nasty crossover and a pretty smooth shot. He ought to be averaging 15 a night, but he needs more touches.

    Deshawn has always been a streaky shooter, more bad than good nights. Last season, he’d go on fire about once every 2-3 weeks. This season, he doesn’t catch fire at all. He’s quick and handles the ball pretty well. He needs to go to the rim more and draw the foul. He can be much more effective trying to disrupt the D through penetration, where he can either draw the foul or dish it. I don’t expect his shot to be falling any time soon, and if it does, it’s VERY temporary. But some nights — DAMN… Remember March 30th last year? 8-12 from 3 against the Lakers? He couldn’t feel his face.

    McGee’s defense is quite poor. I’ve seen him throughout the year, and he’s more apt to foul with his arms than to just move his feet. These are basic fundamentals and skills that will develop over time. Still, I’m very impressed with him and love to see his flashes of ‘freakish’ jumps and javale-oops.

    “And that’s the reason I’m a Bullets fan.”

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