-When I arrived at the Verizon Center for tonight’s game, I realized that any and all traces of Gilbert Arenas had been completely expunged. His pictures weren’t outside the arena, his jerseys weren’t in the store, his image was removed from the pregame videos and clips, and even the few signs that fans tried to hold up with his name on it were quickly whisked away. As I tweeted shortly before the game, “All traces of Gilbert Arenas have been Accentured.” The Wizards brass certainly did not waste any time; however, Arenas is still listed on all of the online rosters.
– In all sports, coaches are asked if outside distractions affect their team, and 99% of the time, coaches will say that they block them out and continue to power through and focus on the task at hand. I never thought this was realistic, nor did I think it was truthful, but since I was not in the locker room, I was in no position to refute this statement. So today, when Coach Flip Saunders was asked if this week’s events were a distraction to the team, his honesty was quite refreshing. “There’s no question, it’s a distraction, from the standpoint of having to talk to people [investigators], media, and trying to talk to them wherever, that’s a distraction,” a candid Saunders said before the game. “I think what it is, it’s almost a surreal situation…a foggy type situation. But we’re doing the best we can.” Saunders also mentioned that after the confrontation on the plane between Crittenton and Arenas, he banned gambling on the team plane.
-Before the National Anthem, Wizards captain Antawn Jamison took the microphone and addressed the crowd. The last time he did this was during the home opener, when he thanked the fans for enduring their 19-63 record last season. This time, Jamison’s tone was much different and decidedly more serious. He apologized for the Wizards’ seemingly flippant attitude in this photo, he stressed that both he and his teammates were embarrassed, but they understood how serious this situation was. He ended his comments by asking the fans to continue supporting the team, and to make the Verizon Center the most difficult place to play in the NBA. After the game, Jamison spoke to the media about his comments, “It just came from the heart. After shoot-around I just felt that we needed to address the fans. Let them know that it’s not acceptable. This is not a laughing matter. This is a very serious situation. A lot of guys in this room take pride in being role models for kids. We take pride that parents can bring their families to the game and we want them to be proud to come to the game and have fun again. For us, it was about putting all of that behind us.”
– Brendan Haywood joked, “I saw him[Jamison] come out there, and I didn’t know whether he was going to rap, sing, I didn’t know what was going on.”
-Guard/forward Mike Miller was in the starting lineup tonight, after missing a month and a half with a strained calf. Throughout the game, Miller demonstrated why his presence was sorely missed in the lineup. He continually made the extra pass, he openly encouraged his teammates, he knocked down a big three-pointer late in the game to continue a rally and at one point he even high-fived head coach Flip Saunders. He finished with an ominous six points, six rebounds and six assists. “We just move the ball so much better (with him in the game). We got crisper by moving the ball from one side to the other and we made quicker decisions, ” Saunders observed after the game. “He gives a calming effect and he can rebound, force the two guard to turnover and he’s big. He can make plays as a passer; he’s just a basketball player.”
– When I asked Miller if he was healthy after the game, he smiled, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I’m getting there, man. I’m getting there.” Miller was also sporting a fresh new buzz cut, shunning the long flowing hairdo he had been wearing since the start of the season. When asked what prompted the change, Miller said, “Its a new start. I’ve been through a lot of tough things that last couple of years and its time to start over.”
-One of the more intriguing matchups in this game was at the center position, where Brendan Haywood and Dwight Howard went head to head. Howard finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds and Haywood had 18 points and 15 rebounds. Howard was 9-of-13 from the field and 5-of-12 from the line and Haywood was a perfect 6-of-6 from the line and the field. After the game, both coaches were complimentary of their respective centers. “Dwight had a good offensive game as Rashard (Lewis) and Jameer (Nelson) were both down; ” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said after the game.
– “Haywood had a great game, ” Coach Saunders said. “I was on him to wrap him [Howard] up and he gave him a couple three-point plays. I was screaming at him and he was screaming at me, but it’s good to keep a little fire going. We didn’t give him a lot of help down there in the post. Haywood’s defense gave us the ability to take away their perimeter shooting.”
-Tonight’s loss to the Wizards represented the Magic’s season-high fourth loss in a row. They have not lost this many games in a row, since April 10-13th when they lost three games because they were resting starters in preparation for the playoffs. Forward Rashard Lewis said after the game, “We just seem to have been losing the last few ball games. It still doesn’t mean we aren’t one of the elite teams in the East. We just have to continue to play defense…It is very frustrating when you are not winning games but this is the NBA and it happens, but we still have to bounce back.”
– Coach Van Gundy added, “I do not have the answer. Obviously if I did we wouldn’t be playing like we are. We’ve lost four straight to sub-.500 teams. The one thing we’ve always done is done a good job against the teams below .500 and now we can’t do that. We’re just in a bad roll right now.”
-Randy Foye got his first start at point guard as a Washington Wizard, and he delivered in a big way with 20 points and six assists. Foye has gone from starting, to being injured, to being buried on the bench, to having limited minutes, to being back in the starting lineup, yet he never complains. “I just try to be a professional,” Foye said as he iced his knees in front of his locker after the game. “When I wasn’t playing, I never said anything about it. When I was playing, I never said anything about it. The biggest thing for me is to be professional and to try to be a team player. This is the life of a basketball player. There’s ups and downs but the best thing of all is that we’re blessed to be able to play this game here.”
– Foye also mentioned after the game that he had talked with authorities earlier in the day, and he had been fined for making light of Arenas’ gun situation prior to the game against the Sixers on Tuesday. “It was foolish, stupid and immature, but you know I gotta’ be a man, I gotta’ accept my penalty, and I apologize to the fans and the organization for behaving in that manner.”
Final score: Wizards 104 – Magic 97