John Hollinger's latest column had nothing to do with the Wizards, but his first sentence looms large in the wake of tonight's victory.
As such, despite the many implications of this win, I'm not encouraged by the Wizards' performance. Even though the Wizards are now tied for first after Orlando's loss to the Lakers (setting up a tiebreaking game Friday that I will be attending), I can't be happy about yesterday. The Wizards would have lost that game against any other team, but because Charlotte is horribly inept at everything, the Wizards escaped.
I don't think I can sit here and honestly claim the Wizards played any semblance of defense in the last half of the game. If it weren't for Raymond Felton fouling out on an offensive foul, the Wizards probably would have lost, because they had no answer for Charlotte's pick and rolls in the fourth. Without Felton, Charlotte couldn't get the ball to Gerald Wallace effectively, and the offense couldn't get anything done.
Wallace became the latest player to expose the Wizards' complete inability to defend athletic forwards. The latest SLAM magazine had an article on Caron Butler describing him as a strong defensive player. I love SLAM, but, as tonight indicated, that could not be further from the truth. Wallace posted Butler up over and over again, and all Butler did was slap at the ball. On one third quarter posession, Wallace faced up on Butler, took one dribble towards the middle, and laid it up and in. Butler didn't step to meet Wallace until after the ball was in the air. Too late. Making matters worse was when Jamison was matched up on Wallace. Jamison was giving Wallace all the room in the world to shoot, and Wallace was still getting around him to the hole. Neither Jamison or Butler can defend forwards, which doesn't bode well for a potential rematch with King James' gang, much less any other playoff team.
Despite all this, a win's a win, and any road win in the second game of a back-to-back is good. I have to give a lot of props to Gilbert Arenas, who hit some huge shots down the stretch. His two late threes gave the Wizards the lead for good, and Charlotte had no answer for him throughout the game. Caron and Antawn had decent games, but DeShawn Stevenson was awful and Brendan Haywood couldn't stay on the court. The loss of Haywood was key, because without him, the Wizards turned into a one-and-done team on offense.
A lot of credit also has to be given to Jarvis Hayes and Andray Blatche, especially the latter, who provided a nice boost of energy late in the third. Eddie Jordan decided to play Blatche inside instead of on the perimeter, and Blatche looked more comfortable. Unfortunately, as soon as Michael Ruffin and Darius Songaila come back, Blatche is going to be back buried on that bench. I see no reason why Blatche can't be as effective as Ruffin, and I hope the Wizards use him more inside.
In the end, the bad performance doesn't really change much of the bottom line. The Wizards are still 12-3 after a 4-9 start, and with Orlando reeling and Miami struggling (and having to deal with Dwayne Wade's latest injury), the Southeast is officially there for the taking. After seeing this team start so poorly, I'll take that at this point.