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In some ways, adjusting to life without Gilbert Arenas won't be too hard. On the floor adjustments are never easy, but the Wizards have plenty of experience playing without Gilbert Arenas already. Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and DeShawn Stevenson are the only players on the roster who have extensive experience playing with Agent Zero, and they know just as much about playing without him as they do playing with him.
Now, the challenge is finding a way to learn how to play without knowing whether or not Gilbert will ever be back. In the past, even when the team had to drastically change their style of play in order to stay competitive without Arenas, they had to do so knowing that they would have to revert back once he returned to the team. With a return to the team looking less and less likely, the Wizards can now begin establishing a new culture and style of play without Gilbert Arenas.
After some bumps in the road to start, the Wizards look like they have begun to find a new groove in the last few games. There is still a long way to go, but a pair of wins has optimism slowly on the rise.
The Wizards have grown accustomed to playing without Arenas the past two seasons, as he dealt with a nagging left knee injury, but Saunders said he doesn't want his team to rely on a past that includes a playoff run mostly in his absence in 2007-08. "They can say that, but they also played without Gilbert last year, and won 19 games," he said with a laugh. "So which one you want to take?" Butler is just pleased that the team is playing better. "We have been through this before, losing one of our key guys, stepping up in major ways, different guys accepting different roles," he said.
Just as they've withstood the indefinite departure of their biggest star, they weathered the blows from visiting Portland before delivering a knockout in the fourth quarter for a 97-92 win in front of 12,209 at Verizon Center. "We're playing with a little more spirit at the end of games," said Saunders, whose team won a game decided by five points or less for the first time in 10 tries. "We're playing to win and not to lose."
"We're playing better team basketball and better defensively," [Brendan Haywood] said. "I definitely feel more guys are trying to make a concerted effort to make the extra pass. I'm sad it took this many games to realize it -- no one can do it by themselves. Hero ball won't win it for us."
Coach Saunders mentioned that there are times when he wants to hug Foye and then other times when he wants to strangle him. Foye most played at shooting guard at the beginning of the year, but with the absence of Arenas, he’s been thrust into the starting point guard role. Foye doesn’t seem to mind the tough love: "He’s tough on me during the game, when I make a mistake, he’ll let me know about it. And if something happens and I don’t make a read, he’ll let me know about it… but after the game he’ll love me up." Foye played another solid game tonight and finished with 17 points and eight assists.
At point-guard Randy Foye continues to make progress. At times Foye has been caught dribbling too much but he only had two turnovers while scoring 19 points and dishing out five assists. "I think that, for me, being on the bench for some time, I got a chance to watch. I was like a sponge. Everything that coach was telling Gilbert, I was watching and observing." Foye explained. "Now, I’m trying to put that into play when I’m on the court. I understand that at the end of games you have to run your offense through the hot guy, but you just can’t give the hot guy the ball and go one on one. You have to run it through your offense and that’s what I’m trying to do."
[E]ven here on the blog it's still tempting to get caught up in all that has descended on this franchise over the last tumultuous month, and man, the dread was familiar when the Wizards gave up a 12-2 run at the end of the third quarter against Portland But something else happened. Washington was the team that prevailed, that stuck to its game plan, that made plays, both offensively and defensively.
These days, everybody uses the Nationals as the standard of "bad" in Washington. And they are really bad. Their won-lost percentage in the five years since they moved to the District is .424. So, what do you think the Wizards' win percentage is since '79? That's 31 seasons. It's .423! No wonder the Wizards think winning three out of seven isn't so bad. It's what they always do. It's what's expected and accepted.
The Blazers couldn't capitalize on momentum heading into the fourth. Apparently figuring one quarter of penetration was enough, Portland reverted to their jumper-happy ways. Meanwhile the Wizards smelled a potential win. Portland's shot progression looked like "15-footer, 20-footer, 26-footer, 18-footer..." (hit and miss). Washington's was "Layup...free throws...free throws...three-pointer...layup" (all makes). The Blazers quickly found themselves trailing again. They never let the Wizards get too far ahead. But when a team starving for wins smells one they tend to gain confidence and things that have gone wrong for them heretofore start going right. In a nip and tuck game the Wizards executed in the last two minutes and the Blazers made enough small mistakes to cost them a chance at victory: not getting back in transition on one play, giving up an offensive rebound on another, missing a free throw, not knowing an inbounds play. In isolation none of these were a big deal. Thrown together with the opportunities Washington got as a result they were enough to tip the close game to the Wizards' favor. Portland loses by 5, 97-92 in a classic example of playing down to the level of your opponent.
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