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April 29, 2005

If Wizards don't step up, they'll have to step out of playoffs

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor
On Sunday, after the Wizards lost Game One of their best-of-seven NBA Playoff series at the Chicago Bulls, I took solace in the way they lost. I figured that Gilbert Arenas couldn't possibly score less than the nine points he put up on Sunday, and bench player Andres Nocioni couldn't possibly go off for 25 points and 18 rebounds again.

Well, I was right. And they still lost.

Because the one thing I didn't think to predict was that the Wizards would play defense as awful as they did in Game One in Game Two. Actually, that would have been right, too; they were worse. In two games, the Wizards have given up an average of 108 points per game to a Bulls team that scored 94 a game during the season.

It's not just defense that's hurt the Wizards, because they could have scored 113 points like the Bulls did in Game Two Wednesday night. What also buried them in both games was terrible shot selection. Washington shot 8-30 from three-point range Wednesday and they shot 50% percent from inside three-range during the game. That means that the Wizards missed 22 threes, way too many shots to miss when you don't play defense.

Now that the series is headed back to D.C. with the Wizards in a deep 2-0 hole, they have to do something fast. Hopefully coach Eddie Jordan will get the Wiz to go back to their free-flowing, Princeton-style offensive ways, as opposed to just settling for ill-advised threes and jumpers. If Washington can be more judgmental when they try shots, they should win Game Three Saturday (3 p.m./Comcast) and Game Four on Monday night (8 p.m./Comcast).

Amazingly, only four of the last 100 teams down 2-0 in a series have come back to win it, and no team has ever rallied from down 3-0 in a series to win. The Portland Trail Blazers in 2003 were the first ever to force a game seven. Winning these two at home is essential if Washington wants to be playing ball beyond this week.

If the Wizards do win them both, and they have to, they will tie the series at 2-2, and it's completely fresh going back to Chicago. A loss puts them down 3-1 and needing to win three in a row to win the series. The margin for error is now completely gone for Washington.

And for the Wizards to be able to hold off on that tee-time for a little bit, their intensity needs to go up a couple notches. That relates to offense and defense; if they are smart on defense and selective on offense, they should be able to win both games. They have more talent than Chicago, at least on paper.

But the Bulls have found two unexpected sparkplugs in the first two games, Nocioni and Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich, who averaged 12.7 points per game and shot 42 percent from the floor this year, shot 17-20 on Wednesday and scored 38 points. Hinrich was suddenly able to create his own shots and he got open an absurd number of times.

The NBA Playoffs are a time to step your game up a couple notches. The Bulls did that, and picked up a couple of wins. The Wizards need to raise their skill and intensity to win the next two games. They really have no choice, because the Bulls will be ready for them.

And if the team doesn't, I hear the Outer Banks are nice this time of year.

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  • varun on April 29, 2005 at 2:47 PM
    "The margin for error is now completely gone for Washington. "
    that stung, but it's true. good article mike, and nice analysis.
  • haha on May 1, 2005 at 4:27 PM
    well they won yesterday in a thoroughly convincing manner...
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