Nice to see the Wizards get the second half of the season off to a good start by beating Minnesota 90-78 at home Monday night. Even better to see Gilbert Arenas score 34 after going 0-4 at the All Star game and 4-22 against the Mavericks last week. I thought Arenas might have broken out of his slump when he finished second in the three-point shootout, but for the second straight year he was essentially a nonfactor in the game. Apparently, he found his role as lead choreographer of the East teams' pregame introductions utterly exhausting.
It's hard to say that the Wizards are better this year than last. The team's major losses in the offseason were Larry Hughes and Juan Dixon and the addition by subtraction of Kwame Brown. Caron Butler has become enough of a scorer recently to replace Hughes, so along with Antawn Jamison, Washington again has two solid offensive options to compliment Arenas, who has had seven 40-point games this season. Still, they are not quite as explosive as last year because neither Butler nor reserve guard Antonio Daniels can shoot the three like Hughes and Dixon. Arenas and Hughes shot Washington back into plenty of games that appeared lost last year.
The interior offense is about as scary as SCTV's "Monster Chiller Horror Theater", so opposing defenses can help out on the Big Three without worrying about the potential damage from Brendan Haywood, Etan Thomas, or designated screen-setter Michael Ruffin. Nothing against those guy, who perform their roles well, but, in the offseason, they need to find a big man who has some skills beyond rebounding and fouling.
Last season, the Wizards went into the playoffs as a five seed, with questions about their defense. Their first round win over the Baby Bulls surprised some people, but the Bulls have fallen off the map this year. Washington is now in the everybody else group behind Detroit and Miami, and Miami is coming back to the pack quickly as Shaq ages. There's no reason why the Wiz cannot repeat last year's playoff success and maybe even beat Miami if they meet in the second round, but it's all over when they run into Detroit.
I have been a fan since they moved from Baltimore as the Bullets, and I like the way this team is developing. Arenas is not quite on the level of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, or Allen Iverson, but he is not far behind either, so the Wizards have the go-to All-Star guy you need to contend for a championship. I took a look at some salary cap information, and after several hours of studying, I have no idea what their options are, but I did learn that Jamison is paid more than Arenas, something that will have to change soon. By the way, in 20 years, the salary cap has gone from about $3.5 million per team to $49.5 million (and most teams exceed that), which pretty much blows up any argument from players' unions.