If I'm Eddie Jordan, I'm making everyone buy Antawn Jamison dinner for the next three months.
I mean seriously, not only have I never seen Jamison play a better game in a Wizards uniform, but I don't think I've ever seen him play harder. The nine rebounds don't do him justice; he was all over the glass, trying desperately to tip and keep balls alive. He shot 14 of 26, while the rest of the team shot 14 of 54. He was just so crafty all game, and it was a joy to see him fake out the younger Trevor Ariza time and time again.
How can you waste a 48 point effort like this? You know Jamison isn't going to show the same intensity, and yet the Wizards only matched his energy in stretches. During the third quarter, for example, the Wizards defended better than I've seen them defend in two years. They were active, blocking shots, forcing turnovers, and grabbing rebounds. But once the fourth quarter rolled around, it was as if it was an entirely different defensive team out there. How can you experience a lull like that in such a key game?
One play didn't lose the Wizards this game. They struggled once again down the stretch, but by that point, it was too late anyway. After that incredible third quarter, the Wizards allowed the Magic to score the first seven points of the fourth in under 2 minutes. It was during that stretch where the Wizards should have pounced. Instead, the same old problems emerged.
There probably was one player that did more to cost the Wizards the game, and that was Brendan Haywood. He played really bad defense on Dwight Howard, committed a couple bad turnovers, missed a number of easy rebounds, and, with the Wizards down just two late in the game, he let a rebound slip right through his hands. Eddie decided to let him out of the doghouse, and he responded with an awful, awful game. When Etan fouled out, that pretty much spelled the end of the Wizards' chances. I don't expect to see Haywood much in the playoffs, and I would think he might be a goner in the offseason.
And I can't believe I went this far without mentioning the nineteen missed free throws. If the Wizards cut that number to, say, 12, they win this game. That seems pretty reasonable. I don't really know how to explain it, except to say that these reserves get more tired by playing more minutes, an excuse I simply don't buy. That's probably what made this loss so frustrating.
Unless we get a win tomorrow night and a Nets loss to the Bulls, it looks like the Wizards will get either Detroit or Chicago in the first round. For a team that once was on top of the Eastern Conference, that's a major, major disappointment, injuries or no injuries.