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State of the Wizards: A cyber-roundtable discussion (Part 1)

A while back, I polled several prominent Wizards bloggers/internet personalities, asking them to answer some key questions facing the Wizards this offseason.  Eventually, many of them got back to me, and now, their answers to each question will be posted here over the next few days.

Your participants:

First question:

This was supposed to be the year the Wizards would rid themselves of the Cleveland curse.  The Cavs were just two games better than the Wizards and had made a panic trade in the middle of the season.  Meanwhile, the Wizards had persevered even with all the injuries and were as healthy as they had been all season.  What went wrong?  How did Cleveland win this series?

Answers are after the jump...

Kevin Broom: Cleveland won the series first and foremost because LeBron James is the best basketball player on the planet.  Yes, better than Kobe.  The Wizards lost because Butler and Arenas weren't healthy.  The Wizards' defense was good enough to win in the playoffs (except for games 2 and 6), but their offense broke down.  That offensive breakdown was due to Butler being gimpy and Arenas playing on one leg.

Jamie Mottram: Cleveland has LeBron, and that was good enough to go to the Finals last year.  I'm not sure how this season was supposed to be any different, though it would've helped had the team not had to deal with the fiasco of integrating an injuried Gilbert into the lineup.

Jake Whitacre: I think it was a combination of a few things.  Part of it was our terrible perimeter defense, which gave West, Gibson, and eventually Szczerbiak too many easy open looks to knock down.  You just can't let role players like that be that productive in addition to LeBron and expect to win.  Another big part of it was Cleveland's defense on Jamison.  Caron and Gilbert weren't 100 percent healthy, so they really needed Antawn to rise to the occassion, and it just didn't happen.  Last but not least, Cleveland had LeBron James.  Say what you want about him, but he's still really, really good.

I Watch the NBA: Cleveland has a LeBron, simply as that.  He can be stopped, but it takes a concerted effort.  We showed we could do it in Game 3, but we were unable to hold up defensively for the other 5 games (1 missed end-of-game layup does not a defensive effort make).  Cleveland won because Mike Brown went to the Phil Jackson school of media manipulation, because they had home court advantage, because they destroyed us on the boards, and because the Wizards lacked a closer (aka, Agent Zero).

Bobtimist Prime: I think it was obvious that they weren't as healthy as they had been all season.  Caron, bless his heart and the tough juice it pumps through his veins, was only able to juice it up for one game.  He really should have been abusing Sczcerbiak a lot more regularly as if he were Wally's overbearing father.  Obviously Gilbert's lack of defense grows even more glaring when his one-legged (if you need more daggering evidence, check the first game of the season, when Jamaal-Freakin'-Tinsley was lighting it up when matched with Zero).  I will blame Gilbert for the lack of closeout push on West's three.  A little more pressure there, he may miss that shot, the Wiz may win game 4, Caron juices game 5, blam blam, different series.  Also, Haywood was particularly awful at catching passes.  I know he is usually awful at catching passes, but he made Rod Gardner look like a google search in catching-things ability during this series.  I loved much of Brendan's contributions this year.  But if I have to watch one more pass end up off of his forehead, I will dagger myself.  Healthy Gilbert, healthy Caron, adequate Haywood, and it's a wrap.

Truthabout it: Caron Butler was more injured than we know.  The team did not have a chance to gel offensively.  Lack of toughness in the paint.

Kingly-1: The Wizards will never get rid of the "Cleveland Curse" without a clear understanding of team identity.  Cleveland knows who they are; the LeBron and sidekicks show.  Washington on the other hand had an injured Gilbert Arenas who was trying to take the team back on his shoulders at the beginning of the series; even though Washington made the playoffs without him.  That precedent made Butler and Jamison take a step back to allow Gilbert to get into his groove; which backfired on the Wizards.  Some of the blame for the integration of Arenas and the back-and-forth communication (if he going to play, if he not...) falls on the shoulder of coach Eddie Jordan; who should be the first one to know everything so he can alter his game plan to account for his main scorer being in the lineup or out of it.  The third and final factor that had an impact on the Wizards losing this series was the hesitant use of the bench by coach Jordan.  The same players who stepped up in the absence of Arenas (Young, Mason, Blatche, etc.) played a much less significant role in the playoffs as opposed to the role they played in the regular season.  The smallest bit of hesitancy is all it takes to lose in the playoffs and the Wizards players and their head coach were hesitant throughout the series.

Me: With the exception of Game 5, Cleveland did an unbelievable job of shutting down our perimeter guys.  I don't know how much Gilbert and Caron were hurt, but both sucked in this series, except for Gilbert in Game 1 and Caron in Game 5.  That was where I saw our advantage; Cleveland's defense had fallen off during the season, and we did score plenty on them when we were healthy two years ago.  Predictably, they hurt us inside.  While Haywood was good, Jamison was terrible, and nobody supplied help on the glass.  Finally, I think they eventually figured out our defense, which was only as good as Cleveland's role players.  We basically used the "LeBron rules" on the Cavs, but got burned when guys like West, Gibson and Wally started hitting their shots.  The scheme was fine, but I think we could have done a better job of closing out on shooters.