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The subplot from hell

A while back, Clipperblog perfectly summed up the pitfalls of an NBA team playing "small-ball."

"Going small" because your opponent plays at a fast pace is like batting Juan Pierre leadoff because he's a speedy little black guy.  They both reside in this bizarre realm of sports logic where ideas are employed because, well, "they seem right."

Yet here we sit, 84 games into the 2006/07 season, with the Wizards still going small at key moments of the game.  From the very first game of the season, where Eddie trotted out a lineup of Daniels, Arenas, Butler, Hayes, and Jamison down the stretch in a three-point loss to Cleveland, the small-ball question has been a nagging thorn in our side.  Granted, there's no easy answer to the question of whether it works, but I think we can all agree that Eddie's utilized it too much.  

Yesterday, Eddie went small again, sitting Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas for the entire fourth quarter, instead putting Darius Songaila in at center.  The move helped get the Wizards back into the game, but it also kept them from continuing the comeback, because Cleveland started dominating the glass.  After Jamison cut the lead to 93-87, LeBron got his own rebound and an easy layup.  On the very next possession, LeBron missed a shot, but Drew Gooden got the offensive rebound and the putback.  Then, after Roger Mason cut the lead to 7, LeBron once again got his own rebound and hit two free throws to push the lead to 9.

Here's how Eddie justified the lineup.

"We've been in a situation where we have to score and we need scorers on the floor," Jordan said. "We have to score and our centers are not scorers, so we played Darius at center. It's always good when you have a five-man like him and a four-man like Antawn [Jamison] who can make shots."

This is true, for sure.  The Wizards needed points, and the lineup helped get the back into the game.  That's a fair point.  But then, this quote kind of got me.

"If our centers are rebounding at a high level, then that can help us," Jordan said. "But if our centers aren't rebounding, then we have to go somewhere else."

It's kind of odd to suggest that and then go with a guy like Songaila.  Songaila's never averaged more than 5 rebounds per game, and hasn't averaged more than 9 rebounds per 40 minutes since his rookie season.  This is the reason why Songaila's a bench player and not a starter.  Unless he's flanked by a power forward who can get tough rebounds, he's a liability in that regard.  Jamison, as crafty as he can be, hardly qualifies as that type of player.

The big question is whether Songaila, in the last three minutes of games like these, is more of an asset offensively than he is a liability on the glass.  It's a tough question to answer, for sure, but judging from the last couple games, it might be worth it to play more traditionally late in the game.

Really, the main problem with the small lineup all season is not that it's used, it's that it's overused.  As a change of pace, the small lineup can be very successful, as it was in Game 2.  But once you utilize it for an extended period of time, it becomes less effective, especially considering that none of the Wizard guards are rebounding demons.  

My hope then is to see it used in a three to five minute stretch before the traditional lineup returns.  That's how it will be most effective.