Lost in all the hubbub about the team's offensive woes is the fact that this team has turned a corner defensively. Currently, the team is 18th in defensive efficiency. They're not the kind of defensive numbers that you can win a championship with, but they're a marked improvement over the last few years, where the team has finished 29th (2009), 24th (2008), 28th (2007), 22nd (2006), 19th (2005), and 20th (2004).
Perhaps an increased focus on defense explains why the Wizards have struggled more on the offensive end this season. If so, I don't really mind. Offense is about flow and tempo, something the Wizards will get better at as they learn to trust the system and each other more. Defense, on the other hand, is all about bringing the same product on the court every single night. While they may not have the bedrock-solid defense of the Celtics, the approach is paying dividends. As long as it keeps up, I don't mind some offensive hiccups as the everyone grows into their role.
The Wizards took solace in the fact that they put on a better performance than they did in Indiana, and that defensively they limited a Phoenix team that was averaging 111 points a game to 102 points on 47.7 percent shooting. But they still can't get into a flow offensively. Their ball movement was prettty weak. And asside from Andray Blatche's 20 points, their bench was anemic. DeShawn Stevenson scored four points, and the only other backup used (Dominic McGuire) went scoreless.
On Sunday, Butler and Arenas combined to shoot 14 of 42 (33 percent) and scored 39 points, but the ball rarely moved more than twice on offense, with players taking the first shot or going one-on-one. "We're not good, because we're not there, as far as moving the ball," Saunders said. "The ball comes, we don't make that extra pass. We're taking too many contested shots. If we were a hockey team, we'd have no hockey assists, you know, the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the score."
The early start was a concern for the Suns as was a letdown from the huge win in Boston. There was much to be concerned about as the Suns turned in 16 first half turnovers leading to 19 Wizard points. Still, it was virtually a 5 on 1 game with Agent Zero providing the only consistent offensive threat for the Wizards. Without the miscues, this game could have been iced early as the Suns led in virtually every category of the game.
"I was just getting into the rhythm of the game," Arenas said. "I didn't play so well in the second half. ... I ran out of gas in the third quarter." Indeed he did. After opening the game with a 12-point, three-assist, zero-turnover first quarter, Arenas went 3-for-13 the rest of the way and finished with 20 points. Meanwhile, fellow team captain Caron Butler had nearly as bad a game, going 7-for-20 from the field for 19 points. "I had six layups that I missed. I mean, c'mon," Butler said, shaking his head after the loss. "In-and-out shots. [Phoenix] wasn't doing anything different. Shots [we] normally make. I know [Arenas] feels the same way. In-and-out shots. Shots that we make nine times out of 10. It's just one of those afternoons."
Over the past several months I have heard several players, coaches and members of the media, praise the actions of the Phoenix Suns training staff. From Shaquille O’Neal, to Grant Hill, to Steve Nash, to Steve Kerr to ESPN’s Bill Simmons, everyone has nothing but glowing statements about the Suns’ trainers, and today I saw first hand how they operate. I was waiting to interview some of the Suns’ players for almost 20 minutes prior to the game, because all of the players in there were participating in some type of stretching exercise. Amare Stoudemire and Grant Hill were stretching their ankles with resistance bands. Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley were sitting on giant exercise balls. Steve Nash and Jason Richardson were also using equipment to stretch as well. To give you some perspective, the usual pre-game locker room atmosphere consists of players listening to music and joking around. For Phoenix, every player was either on the court shooting around or in the locker room stretching. No exceptions.
Concern -- Washington can’t seem find any offensive rhythm without Antawn Jamison and Mike Miller. Despite getting by in wins at Dallas and vs. New Jersey, being without Jamison has proven more difficult with each passing game because of his consistent production. He may not be the guy that wins games for the Wizards late in the fourth quarter, but he’s definitely the guy that makes and keeps them competitive in the other three. Losing Miller has been a blow to the team IQ. That’s two glue guys down. Overall, it leads to players now blaming their unfamiliarity with one another: “I can’t put my finger on it,” said Caron Butler when asked why the Wizards are ending up with more turnovers than assists. “But obviously we just gotta remain positive and continue to execute. Obviously you see different guys being inserted in the lineup, and we have to get a feel for one another. A lot of things are happening on the fly with the lineup change and different guys being out there playing with one another. So we just gotta get accustomed and just continue to play good basketball and play with high energy.”
Suns Coach Alvin Gentry said the Wizards are struggling because "they're missing their best player. With Jamison, they're a different team." Jamison might not be the best player, but it is becoming obvious that he is someone that the team really needs on the floor. Not just because he can get 20 points and 10 rebounds without holding the ball for long stretches, but also because of his leadership. He also provides the bridge for Butler and Arenas, who are not in sync offensively. His return won't fix all of the offensive woes, though. Stevenson said he hopes that Jamison will be back on Saturday against Detroit, but that would also require the team to make another adjustment after playing with four different starting lineups the first seven games. The Wizards often look like they were thrown together for a pickup game, when they've been around each other for almost six weeks.
Blatche delivered another solid performance before becoming fatigued late in the game. He dismissed the notion that the Wizards are in desperate trouble, reminiscent of the disaster last season. "This is nothing like last year," he said. "We just have to keep pushing, keep fighting. We're going to get there. There's no doubt in my mind. And once Mike and Antawn get back..." Until then, the Wizards might want to spend part of their next practice being reintroduced to each other.
The Wizards, down 89-75 with 8:11 left in the fourth, substituted Dominic McGuire into the game for Caron Butler. Washington went on an 8-0 surge to cut the deficit down to 6, then stumbled as Brendan Haywood stepped to the free throw line and missed a set of two shots which could have made it 89-85, Suns, with about five and a half minutes to go. Following the botched free throws, Phoenix center Channing Frye replied with a statement three, one of Frye's 4-for-8 from downtown in the game. Frye's three was the dagger. With just over five minutes left in regulation, down 92-83, the Wizards looked defeated and depleted. Coach Saunders decided to only play 8 guys in rotation today, and the players felt the strain. "(We) ran out of gas," Arenas stated, after the game. Saunders also spoke about Andray Blatche, who clocked 33 minutes. "Andray can't play the major minutes," Flip said, "Usually when guys get tired you don't want to have a chance at guys getting hurt."
To sum things up Nash out assisted the entire Wizards lineup 17-15. As a team the Suns doubled up on the Wizards in the assist department 30-15. Arenas outscored Nash 20-11 but it took him 22 shots to get there. On several occasions Arenas drove into the lane but couldn’t finish. On the other hand Nash’s penetration led to wide-open three point attempts for the Suns. Phoenix enjoyed a 12-4 advantage in 3-point makes. To be fair one can’t accurately judge Arenas’ play making ability until he gets all his weapons back in the lineup.
But the Suns, the top offensive team in the league, made 57.9 percent of their shots in the second quarter to lead 56-51 at halftime. The Suns led by 10 points late in the third quarter, and took their largest lead of the game at 89-75 in the fourth quarter on Channing Frye's 3-point shot with 8:58 remaining in the game. Washington trimmed the lead to 89-83 on an Andray Blatche (20 points) layup with 6:11 to play but would get no closer the rest of the way. The Wizards didn't help their cause in the fourth quarter when they were just 5-of-19 from the field. They were proud, however, that defensively they held the Suns from hitting their league-leading average in points (111.0). "If you look, this is a team that averages  points," Wizards center Brendan Haywood said. "We held them to 102. I was happy with where we were. Defensively, I thought, down the stretch we had a couple of mishaps on rotations that led to easy shots. We gave up a bunch of offensive rebounds too."
The Suns were not fast or sharp offensively early for the 11 a.m. start (Arizona time). Washington started small guards, prompting the Suns to post up Jason Richardson often. It was successful, but it also led to the Suns turning stagnant. "We try to make very simple plays, and then we'll take what the defense gives us from there," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "We started to try to be too creative."
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Twitter / Truth_About_It
Looks like Dominic "The Taser" McGuire is just what the Wizards needed to stop Jason Richardson.
Twitter / The BF gang
Gilbert Arenas looks unbelievably depressed out there.
Twitter / Mike Jones
Verizon Center and it's 14,143 fans are dead with Wiz down 69-75 with 8:57 left in fourth. Flip calls timeout.
Twitter / Michael Lee
Why are the Wizards getting smoked in their own house? Arenas and Butler are a combined 13-40. Ugh. It's 99-86 Suns.
Twitter / wizznutzz
the way Buck & Philosophy call homer game re: fouls, we always expect to look up from Mothering Hut work & see decapitated Wizard
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So I was "Kids Day" at the Wizards/Suns game. I know I said a lot of bad words today so #SorryParents
Twitter / chad dukes
Rough year to talk DC sports for a living.
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The Wizards and Skins doing poorly might be a sign that I might not need to focus so much on watching sports. I need to stay active myself