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Washington Wizards' Season at a Crossroad

PHOENIX - DECEMBER 19:  Head coach Flip Saunders of the Washington Wizards during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on December 19, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Wizards 121-95. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Shaun AhmadSenior Analyst IDecember 30, 2009

There are certain sports where you can take statistics and manipulate them any which way you please to substantiate your argument, and others where the numbers are all that you need to know the story.  Football leaves room for manipulation while baseball is cut and dry.  Basketball is somewhere in the middle. 

A player may average 30 points per game but could take 45 shots to do it while averaging 40 percent shooting.  Is he a great scorer?  Some would argue he is, others would differ.  Allen Iverson's career would be the prime example. 

Either way, statistics tell the story to an extent.

The Washington Wizards currently sit 12th in the Eastern Conference with a 10-20 record.  Apologists may argue that they are 10-20 because of a rash of injuries, a new coaching system, a number of different starting lineups, and players still learning their roles.

I agree with some of that.

The other side of the argument would say they don't play defense, they don't move the ball well, the supporting cast doesn't score enough, and they are inconsistent.

I agree with some of that as well.

But one number alone tells me everything that I need to know about this Wizards ballclub through 30 games of the 2009 campaign.  That number?

46.

The Wizards allowed 46 uncontested shots against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night.  Think about that for a moment.  Let it sink in.  On 46 separate attempts, the Wizards defenders did not make any effort to get between the opponent and the basket. 

That should never, ever happen.  There is no excuse.  None.

Flip Saunders went on a mini tirade after the game threatening that there would be some changes in the lineup and sympathizing with fans for having to sit through the performance, or lack thereof.  That's nice, and it is appreciated, but I doubt it will be enough to suddenly light a fire under this underachieving squad.

I think it's safe to say, or at least I hope that it is safe to assume, that Washington won't have a defensive showing like that again for the rest of the season.  But that doesn't mean that the defense will suddenly become gritty and Boston Celtic-esque.  The reason is because of the blueprint and foundation of the team.

When the late Abe Pollin and general manager Ernie Grunfeld decided to sign Gilbert Arenas through 2015 and re-up Antawn Jamison's contract to keep him a Wizard through 2012, they went ahead and planned the next half a decade for Washington.  The nucleus would remain Arenas-Jamison-Butler; two offensive juggernauts and one well rounded player capable of doing the "dirty" work.  They figured that they could round out the roster with some scrappy veterans and young, eager and energetic players who would pick up the slack on defense. 

It was a good theory, but like many, it doesn't seem to be panning out. 

Defense isn't something that you can pick up randomly for different stretches of the season.  It is a mentality.  When players see Arenas and Jamison routinely getting beat on the defensive end, and using their energy to score or throw up 30 shots, it takes away from the team defense state of mind.  You can't have a team of five players on the court with two of the five playing a lax style.  Defense is a collective effort. 

Offense is different.  In an offense, you can have some guys who are ineffective as long as you have a couple who are capable of scoring in bunches.  There are many examples of that throughout the league today.  But it doesn't work on the opposite end.

The Wizards would still be in decent shape if they played average defense, and had a great offense.  The problem is, they have the 22nd ranked defense and a mediocre offense in which only three players (take a wild guess which three) are averaging double figures in scoring.  So in short, they can't score and they can't defend.

Washington is capable of scoring between 105-110 points per game.  I predict that by the third quarter of the season, they will be doing that.  Mike Miller returning to the rotation along with Arenas getting his legs back a little bit more after coming off of extensive knee surgeries, paired with Caron Butler finding a more comfortable role in the offense will help Washington get the ball rolling again.  But defensively, they have to make a team decision as to whether they want to perform each and every night or not.

Right now, it is clear that the effort isn't there.  Being  1-12 when trailing at the end of the first quarter and 3-15 when trailing at halftime is a sign that the team simply gives up; doesn't try hard enough. 

Turning the ball over 15 times per game is a sign of carelessness. 

Letting opponents shoot 46 percent on your home floor and giving up nearly 25 fourth quarter points per game is a sign of a lack of desire. 

These are flaws that the Wizards can correct, simply by deciding as a team to show up and play hard for 48 minutes.  Ridiculous as it may be for a team ten games under five hundred, the Wizards are only 2.5 games from the seventh seed in the East. 

The door is still wide open for them as 52 games remain.  They have the opportunity, but whether they decide to show up and seize it remains to be seen.  For the sake of this depressed and bitter town, I hope that they do. 

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