Thursday, May 04, 2006

Wizards Whiff

Well, the Wizards suffered what Bill Simmons would aptly describe as a "stomach-punch" loss last night at Cleveland in Game 5 of their first round playoff series. Actually, LeBron James scored his gamewinning basket shortly after midnight, so the Wiz lost this morning, on the East Coast anyway. I'll get back to gamewinner in a moment, but first I want to salute Washington's effort just to get to overtime.

Trailing by seven points with a little more than a minute to play in regulation, the Wizards sent the game into overtime by playing tough defense and driving the ball hard to the basket, with notable efforts from Caron Butler and Antonio Daniels. Washington forced a JeBron turnover and a bad shot by Eric Snow to gain enough possessions to get the game tied. Once overtime began, James did not take a shot for nearly four minutes and barely touched the ball on the Cavs' first few possessions. But the final 1:17 was all LeBron, as he made four free throws and drove the baseline for the final shot of the game.

So, did he travel on that last shot? I turned the game off in disgust as soon as the clock expired, so I didn't see the replays, and the ESPN coverage I have seen today did not shown a good angle, so I can't say for certain, but it looked like a travel to me from the wide shot. If this were the NFL playoffs, we would have seen this play from 20 different perspectives by now, but instead we get to hear LeBron denying a travel in his postgame interview. It doesn't matter, of course, because he traveled when he made the gamewinner in Game 3 and it wasn't called that time either (yes, he was fouled probably twice on that shot, but nothing was called). Just more grist for the mill of conspiracy theory.

The bottom line here is that the Wiz have lost two very close games and one blowout, but they have played well enough to win since the Game 1 King James coronation ceremony. Now it's about mental fortitude. They have to accept that they played two great games and lost them both, but they need to play two more to advance in the series. I still like their chances, especially with players like Daniels and Butler whose toughness compliments the talent of Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison.

So what's the answer on the court? Even though Cleveland shot 43 free throws last night, I agree with Daniels' and Michael Wilbon's assertions that the Wizards must be more physical on defense and not give up so many layups. Unfortunately James draws so much attention that his teammates get open for high percentage shots or easy putbacsk on the offensive glass. Look for Eddie Jordan to find even more minutes for Michael Ruffin and Etan Thomas and don't be surprised to see at least one ejection for a hard foul in Game 6.

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