It used to be that when you talked about the Washington Wizards, there were but a few words that immediately came to mind. Off the court, you had no problems: swag , quirky, extroverted, silly, immature. The majority of the Wizards were all of those things.
But last night’s season-opening road win against the Dallas Mavericks gave Wiz Nation a few more words to describe this team. Premature? Maybe. But in a city where the Washington Redskins have all but decimated hope in team buy-in during the Fall, it’s an emotional investment well spent.
MOVEMENT - The first thing you noticed about the 2009-10 edition of the Washington Wizards is that they are much more comfortable moving on the court. In seasons past, often the team looked lost in the free-flowing Eddie Jordan offense, particularly if subs were playing significant minutes for injured starters.
Last night, the Wizards showed a lot more intended purpose in their cutting, defensive shifts, and decision making.
Andray Blatche clearly has benefited from a offseason of work and the introduction of Flip Saunders. He was an active rebounder, a challenging defender on and off the ball, and made good switches. His once cement-laden jumpshot appeared more confident, and in some cases, appeared to come as a result of designed plays. Maybe Flip and the guys have found something we never thought would ever even exist out of Blatche.
CONFIDENCE – It goes without saying that Gilbert Arenas is back . He still isn’t the finisher he used to be, but he is not that far off. Stopping and starting are no problems, lateral movement didn’t prove cumbersome, and he still keeps people off balance with the jumpshooting.
Most importantly, Gil took a few bad shots in the second half, which may have made the game closer than necessary, but even those shots are signs of his resurging confidence.
DEPTH - Randy Foye and Mike Miller are great additions to this team. I didn’t know Foye was that good of a shooter, and I didn’t know that Miller was that good of a rebounder. For them to add those two elements to a team that will challenge offensively from several points on the floor upon the return of Antawn Jamison is a great sign.
PRIDE- The Mavericks came awfully close to evening things up in the fourth quarter, but the Wizards would not relinquish the lead. In previous seasons, somebody would have noticed the shrinking gap and attempted to win the game themselves.
Last night, Foye, Arenas, Caron Butler, Francisco Oberto and even Andray Blatche hit big shots down the stretch. Even better, they held the opponent to less than 100 points while scoring over 100 points.
OBVIOUS – The Wizards had a definitive advantage in the post against the Mavericks , and they took full advantage of it. Blatche, Oberto, and Brendan Haywood combined for 32 points and 20 rebounds, and provided a solid deterrent from perimeter drives to the basket.
That is something the team may not have taken advantage of in years past—mostly because of injury, partly because of the lack of talent.
It’s only one game, but with an apparent desire to contend in the Eastern Conference, you can assume that this behavior is closer to becoming a habit than an opening-night ruse.
Or at least, you hope its that close.