Growing up, I was a huge fan of the WWF. The theater involved with Hulk Hogan calling on his Hulkamaniacs to “say their prayers and eat their vitamins” so he could have the strength to defeat Andre the Giant was more than enough to have me tune in each Saturday morning.
I also grew up an avid boxing fan and often was able to talk my parents into letting me have a friend spend the night when one of Mike Tyson’s fights were going to be shown on HBO. From their standpoint it was simple – ‘Iron Mike’ was going to knock out his tomato can of an opponent in the first round and then they’d send my buddy and I to bed for the night. I bring this up because anyone whose ever heard the name Don King knows the ingredients for a entertaining weigh-in – lots of trash talking, some pushing and shoving and then the promise of a top-notch main event.
I bring up both of these examples because this entry is dedicated to the Washington Wizards, who are currently facing a “standing eight count” against the Cleveland LeBrons. You may remember Wiz guard DeShawn Stevenson calling King James “overrated,” and Gilbert Arenas following that up with a blog entry basically begging for a first-round bout with Cleveland because he was sure they were beatable. Well, in the immortal words of my mom, “Be careful what you ask for because you just may get it.” The Wizards hung around in game one until their biggest Achillies’ heel exposed itself once again.
For three years I’ve argued with other locals who follow this team that they’re never going to venture deep into the playoffs unless radical changes are made to the composition of this team. There are simply too many guys who settle for jump shots instead of driving into the paint and getting the tough baskets or forcing the opposition into foul trouble.
That may work for stretches during the regular season, but when everything intensifies during the postseason, jump shooters have a way of going cold and missing the big shots with the game on the line. That’s why ESPN always shows when a shooter drains a 20 footer in the second half — because they just don’t go in that often in the playoffs.
Antawn Jamison is a wonderful complementary player, but he’s not the type of go-to player who is willing to bang around down low and muscle his way to the basket when the season is on the line. Gilbert Arenas is fearless, when healthy, but this player wearing #0 is not that same player. Injuries have limited Agent Zero to 15 points and three assists a game so far in the playoffs, which is fine if you’re Derek Fisher. Not so much for Arenas, who fancies himself a superstar. Ditto with Caron Butler’s production, who is bringing home 13 points and five boards a night. Brendan Haywood is willing to get down and dirty — shoving King James into the third row of seats behind the basket when James had the audacity to try to drive the basket while Haywood was on the court (he hasn’t been this willing to get physical since the last time he and teammate Etan Thomas read poetry together). But Haywood can only do so much. Anyone expecting more than 10 points and 10 rebounds from Brendan is in for a letdown.
So this leads us to a fairly simple question — if the Wizards are built for regular season success, at best, and are suffering from the same rash of injuries that have hampered them for the last two years, why are they talking trash to the best young player in the game? Um … anyone?
“I think the Washington Wizards have got to be the dumbest team in the history of civilization,” said Charles Barkley, who never shies away from a chance to state the obvious. “I think for them to rile up LeBron, who is the second best player in the NBA, I think that’s just stupid.”
The bottom line is, unless the Wiz can stop talking the talk and start walking the walk, they’ll be golfing the golf by next weekend. They’re entertaining and a fun team to watch, and when the shots are falling, they can run with anyone. But during the playoffs, I just don’t think their jump-shooting mentality, especially against a motivated Cleveland LeBrons squad, is good enough to carry them past the first round. If this series goes six games, I’d be stunned. Hopefully I’m wrong, but history (and not to mention Cleveland’s eight straight playoff wins against the Wiz) seem to agree.