Many preseason prognostications had the Wizards finishing as high as fourth in the Eastern Conference and as a definite playoff team. Through nine and a half games, however, they looked like anything but.
Their 2-7 start, though somewhat surprising, can be attributed to two major factors.
First, the reintegration of Gilbert Arenas into the Wizards offense was bound to take some time. Remember, Arenas has been mostly inactive from live basketball action for the better part of two years. It should not be surprising that incorporating himself back into the offense alongside three new players would involve some growing pains.
Second, the success of this team rests squarely on the shoulders of Antawn Jamison, and Wizards fans now realize how important those shoulders are. The injury he sustained during the preseason was a devastating loss, even for a short duration. Jaminson's importance to this team was made painfully obvious in his absence.
With Jamison's return to the Wizards lineup Wednesday night, this would be the first chance we have had all season to see this team at full strength.
And they didn't disappoint.
Cleveland looked strong in the first half and held a 51-44 lead heading into halftime. LeBron James led the way with 13 points and seven assists.
But Washington started out the second half strong, and took the lead 60-57 on an Antawn Jamison jumper midway through the third quarter. LeBron James then went into kill mode and made three straight three pointers, retaking the lead 66-60.
From that point forward, it was all Washington. With Caron Butler and Andray Blatche leading the way, the Wizards went on a 16-2 run that put them ahead of the Cavs for good.
Jamison ended the game with 31 points and 10 rebounds. He looked like he was in midseason form out of the gate, scoring 13 points in the first quarter alone. But it wasn't just the tangible value that he added to the game that made the Wizards look like a re-energized team. The intangibles were just as obvious.
You could just feel the difference in this team with his presence on the court. Jamison not only opened up numerous opportunities for other players by drawing double teams, but he also brought with him the confidence of a winner. And his demeanor was contagious.
The "big three" of Jamison, Arenas, and Butler were on the court for the first time together this year, and they showed their fans why they were a dark-horse pick as a surprise team in the East. The trio combined for 68 points, 22 rebounds and 11 assists. Throw in Mike Miller's 17 points and you had yourself a near unbeatable team on this night.
This is exactly the type of signature win that can ignite a team and catapult them back into contention. The next two games on the road against the Thunder and the Spurs should tell us a lot, but I feel like this is a Wizards team that has all the pieces to be an elite team in the Eastern Conference.
Don't look now, but the Wizards could be back in contention by this time next week.
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