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Open thread: Regular season game 60

The essentials:
Magic (39-23) at Wizards (29-30)
7 p.m.
Verizon Center
Comcast Sports Net

This year:
November 3: Magic 94, Wizards 82.

Notable Magic numbers this season:
9th in expected winning percentage (.514), third in the East.
10th in pace factor (91.9 possessions per game), second in the East.
5th in offensive efficiency/offensive rating (113.2), first in the East.
T13th in defensive efficiency/defensive rating (108), tied for sixth in East.

Key links
Third Quarter Collapse.
Believing in Magic
Third Quarter Collapse blog preview.
Believing in Magic blog preview.
Times: Arenas still plans to opt-out.
Magic BasketBlog: Forget the division.
Post: A good first practice.
Wizards Insider: Wednesday Update.
The Bog: Arenas practice report.
Competition discussion: Orlando

Starting lineups:
PG: Jameer Nelson.
SG: Keith Bogans.
SF: Hedo Turkoglu.
PF: Rashard Lewis.
C: Dwight Howard.

PG: Antonio Daniels
SG: DeShawn Stevenson
SF: Antawn Jamison
PF: Darius Songaila
C: Brendan Haywood

Tonight's lines:
Magic at Wizards: Magic by 1.5.
Over/Under on total scoring:  points.

I owe you guys a long one, and luckily, there's a lot to talk about today.  

Arenas' lift-off: I'm going to try to hit all the Gilbert-related pieces of news in one bullet point.  Wish me luck.

First of all, in his first practice yesterday, Gilbert indicated he felt better about himself that he expected (from the Post link).

"I was surprised about my wind," said Arenas, who last played during a win at Minnesota on Nov. 16. "I wasn't as tired as I thought I would be. It was just exciting to get out there."

This is outstanding, and I'm being completely serious.  I've said all along that this team needs Gilbert to come back this season, not only because he's such a dynamic player, but also because the front office needs some evidence of his post-surgery game.  They need to know whether the knee is fully healed, or if the Gilbert we saw in November is the Gilbert we get for the rest of his career.  Shutting him down permanently misses the point.

The bigger question is how will he affect the way everyone else is playing.  I took a look at player pairs from last year to see whether players' numbers with Gilbert were better than they were just by themselves.  Pretty much all of the key players that were on the team last year saw their field goal percentages rise (the exception was Darius Songaila), and for each of them, the team performed better offensively and worse (though not by nearly as much) defensively.  Each player also attempted fewer shots per 48 minutes, though the difference wasn't significant.  

Of the players, Andray Blatche saw the biggest jump in his field goal percentage (it rose 3.7 percent), followed by Antonio Daniels (3.6) and Roger Mason (2.3).  Daniels surprises me a bit, but then again, one negative effect of Gilbert is shown in AD's assist number, which fell from 6.6/48 minutes to 5.6/48 minutes with Gilbert.

All this seems to indicate that the transition should be fairly smooth.  Of course, these are not the same Wizards, so I assume there will be some difficult moments, particularly with Brendan Haywood, who was positively affected by Gilbert last year (+1.9 percent on his FG%, no effect on his scoring), but has developed into a decent post threat that Gilbert must learn to utilize more effectively.  But overall, I don't expect too many problems offensively.  Gilbert's defense is the far bigger issue, though it shouldn't be so hard to improve on Daniels, the man whose minutes Gilbert will mostly take.  It's interesting to note that the defensive efficiency of the team was worse for nearly every single player when they played with Gilbert than it was for the individual.  Gilbert is going to need to buy into Randy Ayers' defensive schemes, otherwise, I could see him once again being a detriment on that end.

But this is only a prelude to the far bigger news of the day -- that Gilbert is still opting out no matter what happens with his return.  Here's what he told Mike Jones:

"Yes," Arenas said. "I'm still gonna be the No. 1 free agent. I mean, on a bad leg I average 22.

"The contract is not the reason for coming back," he explained. "The contract is what is on my mind when I'm thinking about coming back. Let's be real. If I get hurt again, who's gonna want to pay somebody who's had three knee surgeries? So that's the part that's going in the back of my head right now."

Brett Edwards from Fanhouse asks the obvious question I had (who's going to want to pay someone who's had two knee surgeries?), and speculates the Wizards will be the only ones interested.  More importantly, Jones discussed the difference in Gilbert's salary if we re-sign him, and it's actually not that bad.

And as far as his contract goes, opting out is a way to get a raise, Arenas said. He would earn $12.8 million if he didn't opt out next year. But if he does, under the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, he can sign a six-year deal that would include a 12.5 percent increase. So Arenas would earn about $14 million after signing a new deal.

Some salary cap-ologist should check that, because the increase seems pretty low.  I was expecting something more like what Antawn is making now, like in the 16 million dollar range.

So long as the increase is really that small, it just doesn't make sense to let him walk for nothing, knee injury or no knee injury.  Gilbert has said he will entertain other offers, but what else is he going to say?  Who out there will give him what he wants?  A contender?  Not unless he wants to take a big pay cut.  Memphis?  Why would he go to Memphis?  Philadelphia?  I don't think they'll have enough money now that they kept Andre Miller.  A sign-and-trade is the only possibility, and I don't see teams forking over too much for a guy coming off two knee surgeries.

It's an exceedingly difficult situation, because the last thing we want is for us to commit max money to Gilbert, only to see him never be the same guy, but the alternative of letting him leave is far worse.  Ernie has spent the last three years quietly re-tooling around Gilbert and Caron Butler, so he would essentially have to start over if he let Gilbert go.  While this team still has only gotten out of the first round once, we're not in a panic position yet, not with so many young guys that have room to grow.  

On the court: Had an interesting exchange with reader Timothy this weekend, and I wanted to bring it to the forefront of discussion.

The question is whether it makes sense for Roger Mason to replace DeShawn Stevenson in the starting lineup.  Admittedly, I'm not a fan of Roger's game, so I kind of dismissed the thought by citing DeShawn's much better plus/minus.  Here was Timothy's response.

The +- difference doesn't work with Mason.  One, he played point when Antonio went down - he's not a point guard.  Two, he's more likely to be playing with bench players.  Yes, Mason is a jump shooter but he's a significantly better jump shooter than Stevenson.  And when teams started overguarding him when he was a starter, he started driving more.  Jump shooters need their minutes.  In December, when he filled in for Antonio, he shot .476 from the field and .435 from 3.  Deshawn is shooting .380 from the field and .366 from 3.  The ball also dies with him - not a great passer and an overall passive offensive player.  Outside of stats, he complains a lot after no calls.  According to basketball prospectus, he's an overrated defender too.

How do their numbers stand up?

Those numbers give Mason a slight advantage offensively, I suppose.  He's a better scorer, but Stevenson rebounds better and, despite Tim's claim, passes better, at least in terms of the number of assists.  There is logic to the "ball-stopping argument," and it's true that Mason is a better jump-shooter by a pretty significant margin.  

That said, I'd still rather have Stevenson play more, for a few reasons.  First, perhaps he isn't an elite defender, but the team is significantly better defensively with him on the court, and worse when Mason in the game.  I also like the fact that DeShawn gives us a bigger guard, because it gives us better balance.  Guards can't overpower Stevenson like they could overpower Mason.  Finally, even though Mason is a better shooter, he shoots too many jumpers (89 percent of his shots! That's insane), which leads to a lack of offensive balance.  Stevenson shoots a lot of jumpers too, but he at least drives to drive more often, and that keeps the defense honest while simultaneously aiding one of our biggest offensive problems -- we don't get to the free throw line like we used to.  

At the very least, it's an interesting discussion, and discussion is what this site is all about.

Orlando coming in: I figured Orlando would only be slightly above-average this year, but they have been much better, thanks mostly to the resurgent Hedo Turkoglu, who poses so many matchup problems when in tandem with Rashard Lewis.  Those two are going to be a big challenge tonight, probably even moreso than Dwight Howard.  We usually suck at defending the three, and I imagine we'll suck again tonight.

Kdp922 made the case that he'd rather see Orlando than Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs.  I totally agree in the sense that I don't want any part of LeBron in the first round, but that doesn't mean Orlando is not going to be formidable.  Their offense is far better than people think, and I worry that their three-point offensive attack is exactly the type we'd want to avoid.  On the other hand, with our full arsenal of players, we can score on them.  They're currently 13th in the league in defense, but that number has been dropping, and subjectively, they've had a lot of games where they've given up far too many points.  I don't think they match up well with any of our Big 3 when they are fully healthy.  Jameer Nelson always struggles with Gilbert, and Turkoglu and Lewis are no chance for a healthy Butler and Jamison.  A potential first-round series will be a shootout, and that alone gives us a better chance to win.

This is an open game thread, so call Brendan Haywood Kryptonite here.