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Although the ending didn't go the way the Wizards wanted, Washington can be proud of their performance last night. They took the team with the second best record in the Western Conference to the limit last night. That, combined with a stretch of solid performances should give the team hope that things can get better.
However it's important to keep things in perspective. In order for the Wizards to get back to .500 by the end of the season, the Wizards would have to go 27-14 the rest of the way. In other words, Washington would have to win at nearly the same rate as the team that just beat them (the Mavericks are currently 28-14) just to get a low seed in the playoffs this season.
There's nothing wrong with optimism, but the Wizards are going to have to take to whole new level if they even want a shot to be in the playoff hunt. Losing to a team playing at the level the Wizards need to play at to make a run, shows that the Wizards still have a long, long way to go. With the team hitting the halfway point and the trade deadline looming in the future, the gap between the Mavericks and the Wizards appears much wider than the scoreboard would indicate.
The Wizards beat the Mavericks 102-91 in Dallas to start the season, a win that appeared to validate Washington’s preseason confidence of being a top team in the Eastern Conference. That victory now seems ages ago for a team that has been rocked by the indefinite suspension of Gilbert Arenas(notes) for bringing guns into the locker room. Only two Wizards who were in the starting lineup on opening night—Haywood and Butler—started Wednesday’s game. The Mavericks have gone on to be their usual playoff-bound selves—28-14 after 42 games—while Washington’s record is nearly reversed: 14-27 at its halfway mark.
I have to say, though, that I was proud of the Wizards for not throwing in the towel last night. With about seven minutes left in the third quarter, the Mavericks were up 11 (62-51), but the Wizards fought back and eventually took the lead early in the fourth quarter -- and that's despite Antawn Jamison having one of his worst games this season (seven points on 2-10 shooting and only three rebounds).
Despite the loss, Carlisle said he hadn't given up on the Wizards having a successful run the rest of the season. "I like the way that they are playing," he said. "I have seen their last three games, and the double overtime game in Chicago could have gone both ways. If they would have gotten one more score in this game or if one bounce would have gone their way then they would be looking at three wins in a row. That's how this league is. They have a good complement of guys and you can tell that they like playing together by watching the games. I personally think that they are going to hang around in the playoff race."
Jamison had a rare off-night this month, as he was held to just seven points on 2 of 10 shooting and three rebounds against his former team. Jamison was moving gingerly after the game following an elbow to his back. "My heart was hurt more than anything, knowing that I could've played better," he said. "I didn't bring it tonight. Right now, I got to do it. No matter how they play me, I got to find a way to get it done." As he left the court, Butler ripped of his jersey and hung his head in disgust. "Any time you fall a little short, you wish you had the opportunity back," he said. "Unfortunately, it is what it is. I lost the game, it slipped through our fingers."
Shawn Marion's block of Caron Butler's last-gasp jump shot will get the lion's share of attention, but if I've learned anything from watching basketball for most of my life, it's that a one-point game is hardly ever really decided on the final possession. There's always plenty of reasons that one team lost, and it's rarely just bad luck or one poor play at the end of regulation; in the recipe for every loss, close or not, there's always an ingredient list.
When Caron Butler egotistically assumes he’s the man on the court without Gilbert Arenas, or enviously wants to be the man on the court with him, he’s doling blows to his basketball persona that was shaped by tough beginnings. Butler isn’t the only Wizard who’s played Hero Ball this season, but he’s been more afflicted with the basketball hubris disease than anyone else by far. No one player is at fault for the Wizards’ 14-27 record. Even problems such as ignoring the coach’s instruction tend to be more systemic than an anomaly. But when the wanna-be hero goes rogue and fails in a single instance, you can toss ‘games aren’t won/lost on one play’ clichés out the window. The lone wolf deserted his pack and should always take the blame.
The Mavericks came out with a quickness and energy that they had been lacking in previous contests. They seemed like a more cohesive unit, not just settling for jump shots and racking up numbers in the assist column. The Mavs and the Wiz shot reasonably well, shooting 45.9% and 44.4% respectively. Some of the biggest differences came from points off of turnovers and fastbreaks. Dallas was able to capitalize off of some of Washington’s turnovers, and they had 12 fast-break points to Washington’s goose egg.