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Are the Wizards better than their record?

Our fearless leader Ernie Grunfeld seems to believe so.

Grunfeld believes that even without Arenas and starting center Brendan Haywood, the Wizards have enough talent to be a .500 team.

"We're better than we have performed," Grunfeld said when asked about the decision to fire Jordan, the third-winningest coach in franchise history.

I think that we'd all agree that there's some truth in that.  Save for two blowouts at the hands of the Magic and a sloppy loss at Miami, the Wizards have been competitive in every other game they've played this season.  In fact, in of those losses, they've either held the lead or been within one possession of tying the game.  Let's take a look back at those losses:

  • Lost to New Jersey by 10, despite holding a lead in the 4th quarter.  At the time it seemed like a bad loss since most people thought the Nets would be one of the worst teams in the league.  In hindsight, it doesn't look nearly as bad given that the Nets are currently 9-7, but it was still a game the Wizards could've had.  Last lead: 8:05 left in the 4th quarter.
  • Lost to Milwaukee by 8 in OT.  The Wizards had control for most of the game, but a late 10-1 run forced an extra period and the Bucks rode the momentum to a win in extra time.  Out of all the wins that the Wizards have given away, this one probably stings the most.  Last lead: 2:16 left in the 4th quarter.
  • Lost to New York by 6.  New York had the lead for most of the game, but a Caron Butler layup gave the Wizards the lead with less than a five minutes to go.  Then the Knicks scored 12 of the last 15 points.  Last lead: 4:41 left in the 4th quarter.
  • Lost to Atlanta by 4.  A DeShawn Stevenson jumper gave the Wizards a 4 point lead with 1:05 to go, but two treys from Joe Johnson gave the Hawks the lead for good as the Hawks would go on to score 8 points in the last 65 seconds.  Last lead: 0:27 left in the 4th quarter.
  • Lost to Houston by 12.  If you can believe it, the Wizards actually held a 9 point lead with less than 9 minutes to go and still managed to lose by double-digits.  Apparently Tracy McGrady can still hit threes when he's left open.  Last lead: 3:56 left in the 4th quarter.
  • Lost to New York by 5.  Of course, this was the game that the Wizards lost despite the Knicks only suiting up 7 players.  I'd say the consensus among most Wizard fans was that it was a game that Wizards should've won given the circumstances.  Not everyone agrees, however:


    Sean: You obviously didn't watch the Wizards, this season nor the past three playoff years. Eddie Jordan's Princeton offense was nonexistent. He was possibly the worst defensive coach in the league. His genius strategy of giving up the most 3s in history was classic. How do you lose to the Knicks who dress seven guys?

    Justin: There's no bigger cliche in the inbox of sportswriters than the fan who writes in to say, "You obviously don't watch Team X." Please. I watch all the teams. I talk with scouts about them. I talk with coaches, general managers and players about them. I am happy to recognize that legit disagreements come up among observers. But don't try the I-know-more-than-you-because-you-don't-watch-my-team angle. It's bunk.

    I would say you need a Princeton offense primer. They run some variation of the Princeton offense 99 percent of the time. Ask any scout. I have. As for losing to the Knicks, that's not hard to do when you are missing your starting point guard, your backup point guard and your starting center. The Wizards had to start Dee Brown and JaVale McGee. That's why they lost.

    I'll agree that sportswriters don't get enough credit for the hours they spend watching film and gathering insights from people in the know.  I'll also agree that the Wizards run the Princeton about 99 percent of the time.  But I just don't see where he's coming from with the last part.  Sure, the Wizards were without their two best point guards and their top center, but the Knicks were without their top shooting guard, top center, and they didn't have the services of one of their top two point guards because he refused to play.  Plus, the Wizards had two All-Stars and a full bench to compensate for their roster issues, the Knicks didn't. 

    Should that game have cost Eddie Jordan his job?  Maybe not, but I think it's a game that he should've won.

    Anyways, despite all that, the Wizards had a chance to win, late in the game but as you would proably expect given the theme that's been established, a late run by the Knicks did them in.  Last lead: 7:18 left in the 4th quarter.

For those of you keeping score at home, that's six losses where the Wizards had a lead in the fourth quarter only to end up losing.  Plus the Wizards have had three games this season (at Detroit, vs Miami, and vs Atlanta) where the Wizards had either tied the game or come within one possession of tying the game in the fourth quarter.  That's nine games where the Wizards have had a chance to win in the 4th quarter but come up unsuccessful.

Now you can blame those close losses on bad late game execution, bad coaching, or just plain bad luck, but I think it's going to be hard for the Wizards to keep losing 9 out of every 10 close games they play this season, especially once Gilbert Arenas comes back.  Will better late game performances and the return of a superstar be enough to get the Wizards back into the playoff hunt?  I doubt it, but I also doubted the Wizards would be able to make the playoffs last year without Agent Zero, I doubted that JaVale McGee would be able to contribute in his rookie season, and I doubted that I'd ever see the words "Stealth Booger" written with any sense seriousness attached to them. 

It's goinig to take an amazing run over the last 68 games to get into the playoff chase, and our current record doesn't lend itself to a lot of optimism about the rest of the season.  It may seem bleak, but let's not close the door on the team just yet.