-I know that the hot topic of the day is Gilbert Arenas, and I cannot lie and say that I am not also curious as to how this will all play out. But I am not in the business of writing speculative articles on things that I cannot verify directly. That being said, I was not one of the 50 or so reporters who descended upon Arenas’ locker after the game. I did hear Arenas say that he and Javaris Crittenton were friends before this incident, and will continue to be friends afterwards. Other than that, I have no information of note to add to this volatile story. But for excellent in depth reporting about Arenas, you can go to this site by former Washington Times sports writer Mike Jones, the Washington Post’s Wizards beat writer Michael Lee or TNT and Nba.com writer David Aldridge. All three gentlemen have their respective fingers on the pulse of this Arenas situation.
-During his pregame meeting with the media, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich talked a bit about how his team is not where he’d like for them to be at this point in the season. “The defensive effort has been inconsistent, as far as playing defense for 48 minutes…on the offensive end there’s a lot of new people. Old people are trying to fit in with new people and new people are trying to fit in with older people and its taken a little more time than usual.” Tonight, the older people led the way for the Spurs, as Tim Duncan scored 23 points with seven rebounds, and second year Spurs guard Roger Mason had 20 points including 4-for-4 from beyond the arc.
-Speaking of Roger Mason, I had a brief chat with him before the game about defense and what it takes to be a good defender, and he was very candid with me about his own defensive shortcomings prior to him joining the Spurs. “I can’t say that I really was the most experienced defender when I left Washington, I did the best I thought I could do. But when I got in this system [with the Spurs] that first year really stripped me of a lot of my bad habits, and I’ve learned how to compete defensively.” Ironically enough, it was Mason’s shooting, something he did exceptionally well with the Wizards, that helped the Spurs win defensively. Whenever the Wizards doubled Duncan in the post, the ball would eventually be kicked out to Mason, and he made them pay. Coach Popovich said of Mason’s effort, “Roger Mason was great. He allowed us to stay in it in the first half. We told the team we are not going to win it with one of you guys. Say thank you to Roger for keeping us in it, but to win it we will need to do it as a group defensively.”
– I also had a good conversation with Spurs forward Richard Jefferson on the Wizards defense, being called out by a coach for lackluster play and Gilbert Arenas. Stay tuned to Hoops Addict for that audio.
-After the Wizards loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, not only did Flip Saunders rant and rave about the lack of defensive effort on his team, but he promised to make personnel changes. During his pregame presser tonight, he still did not know what those changes were going to be. By tipoff, we learned that Randy Foye would not start, and Andray Blatche would. This moved Caron Butler to shooting guard, Antawn Jamison to small forward, Blatche played power forward, and Arenas and Haywood were at point guard and center respectively. Blatche had just five points and six rebounds in 27 minutes, and drew the ire of Saunders by not playing in the low post. “He has to establish himself as a low block type scorer. That’s what he has to do…in the fourth quarter, if you think you’re going to go behind your back on Tim Duncan who’s been all league for 15 years and get a shot off, that’s not going to happen.” There were no other major lineup changes of note, except for Nick Young who had his first DNP, since the last time the Wizards played the Spurs on November 21st.
-Caron Butler met with Coach Flip Saunders in the days leading up to tonight’s Spurs game, and talked to the coach about his role with the team and his how he could improve his game overall. In the first practice after that meeting, Coach Saunders singled out Butler’s exemplary effort. Tonight, Butler had 24 points an six rebounds, and again, Coach Saunders praised his effort. “I thought that Caron played hard. That’s the hardest he’s played over a 48 minute game; defensively doing things. If we have that he’s going to be okay. A guy who plays hard like that defensively, I’ll give him a free pass on a few shots.” After the game, Caron discussed his effort and how it felt to switch from small forward to shooting guard, “It was different and it was something I was looking forward to, and I took the challenge and played pretty well… I had 21 looks and I only passed on like eight, so its a great position for me, and I definitely feel comfortable doing it.”
-The Wizards lost tonight’s game in the fourth quarter. After giving up 30 points in the first quarter, the Wizards only gave up 40 points in the second and third quarters combined, and they actually led by a point going into the fourth. But in that fourth quarter, they gave up 27 points an only scored 15 points themselves. Coach Saunders addressed this point after the game. “We took some rushed shots, we took some quick shots… you have to make stops, you can’t let them get in the bonus early, it takes away your defensive aggression. And then we have a tendency to try to hit homerun plays in the fourth. We play the fourth quarter, the first five minutes like its the beginning of the game, we’re feeling each other out, but by that point, you should know where you’re at and you should be in attack mode.” Wizards guard Randy Foye (6 points in 17 minutes) agreed with Coach Saunders’ assessment. “They [the Spurs] are a championship team and they’ve won three championships, and they know how to win, and when you don’t execute like we didn’t, they pull it out, so we need to be shooting for that type of execution, but its a process, and right now we’re still learning.” Its odd to hear a player say that after 31 games, but it is indeed the Wizards’ reality.
-Things don’t get any easier for the Washington Wizards this week. Besides the Arenas-Crittenton distractions they have to endure, they have to play the Sixers and the Cavs on the road back-to-back, Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic at home on Friday.
Final Score: Spurs 97 Wizards 86