Oct 29, 2010

NBA and Wizards beat writer Michael Lee discusses the opening week of the 2010-11 season, including John Wall's debut for the Wizards, the latest on Gilbert Arenas, the James/Bosh/Wade combination in Miami and more.

FULL COVERAGE: Washington Wizards & NBA

Hey, everybody. We're back at it again. The new-look Wizards had a horrible debut on national television on Thursday, as the Orlando Magic hammered them by 29 points in a game that over midway through the first quarter. John Wall learned a few lessons, specifically that you should challenge Dwight Howard in the lane at your own peril. He also showed that he's going to have to develop a consistent perimeter jump shot because teams aren't going to let him just blow by them in halfcourt sets with his incredible speed.

We've got a lot to talk about, with the Wizards and several other interesting stories in the NBA - the Lakers, Celtics, the cloud of the lockout and that team in Miami that's getting all the hype. By the way, LeBron James might be shocked tonight at the home opener when he realizes that the Heat doesn't actually play on South Beach. But enough with the info, let's go...

John Wall looked nervous. How would you rate his performance?

I would give him a C- in his debut. He had nine assists, three steals and just three turnovers, but he missed 13 of 19 shots and had the worst plus-minus of any player with a minus-31. That's incredible since the Wizards lost by 29.

I'm sure nerves finally kicked in for Wall, since he was making his debut on national TV against a team that reached the NBA Finals two years ago and has been in the Eastern Conference finals in each of the past two seasons. The Magic was well-prepared and presented the blueprint for how to defend Wall: Leave him open, let him shoot and live with it. I spoke with a scout who told me that teams will give Wall "the LeBron treatment" his rookie season, since they know he can get to the cup in the blink of an eye.

It was a great first game for Wall, though. He got a crash course in what he should expect in this league. Fortunately for him, there aren't many teams as good as Orlando, which, as Wall said, is playing like "a team on a mission."

The Wizards last night looked like the worst team NBA. Is this possible?

It's possible if the Wizards get routed like that against Minnesota or Sacramento. The Magic is really good. It has had basically the same core for the past three seasons and Stan Van Gundy doesn't allow his players to let up. With a game against Miami on the schedule tonight, you had to assume that it was going to try to knock out the Wizards as soon as possible and save up some energy for the big event. Coach Flip Saunders spoke before the game about being prepared for "the haymaker" but the Magic came out like Mike Tyson circa '87.

That being said, the Wizards have A LOT of room for improvement, especially with defense and rebounding. Their effort in those areas was embarrassing last night.

Blatche's play was putrid last night. Awful. Turnovers, bad shots.

Is it just because his conditioning is off? Was he nervous? He looked like Blatche as a rookie, not the Blatche of last year.

I was really stunned by how bad Blatche looked as well. The first time Dwight Howard came over to double team him, he looked like he had never seen a double team before. He settled for long jumpers and never tried to get any easy buckets. Blatche has a nice jumper, but I don't understand why he is so apathetic about going inside when he has proven that his post game is probably better than his perimeter game. His conditioning is off, but he's been through a training camp and a preseason. He's played enough games.

I know I didn't make a big deal of it, but maybe those nine days off before the season opener may have been a detriment because the Wizards never had a chance to compete against teams that have so much experience and knowledge. Going against equally young players in practice everyday may not have been the best preparation.

Is the locker room still real clowning? Like the good ol' days?! At least when we were 1-and-done in the playoffs every year we still had the coolest team in the league... do we at least have that Wiz swag going for us?

All I can say is that these guys really seem to have great camaraderie in the preseason and Flip has had to remind them to get serious on several occasions. This is a young group, with guys who have similar interests and love to laugh and joke. But at this point, I wouldn't worry about swag, I'd just focus on whether these kids are getting better.

Are we always going to get outrebounded like that or is Orlando's frontline just that strong? The way Javale, Blatche and Yi were boxing out, they may as well have been made of paper. It's very hard to watch and makes being a Wizards fan really frustrating. After two quarters yesterday, I began to assume the only way we'd get the ball back was on an inbounds pass after the Magic scored. How long before Flip starts rewarding inexperienced, but hard working players like Trevor Booker?

The Wizards will have trouble rebounding all season because the bigs that get the bulk of the minutes are not great rebounders. McGee often finds himself out of position to get rebounds, either because he's trying to chase down a block or loses focus. Flip was furious with McGee on several occasions last night.

I don't think the rebounding differential will be as severe as it was against Orlando, which has considerable size with Dwight Howard, Marcin Gortat, Brandon Bass and Rashard Lewis. Howard is such a tenacious rebounder, he kind encourages his teammates to get active as well. But unless the Wizards become great at rebounding as a team, they will struggle. They had three offensive rebounds -- the same as Bass last night.

I think a guy like Booker will definitely get some burn if he plays with the energy he provided last night. He played 10 minutes but had six points and two rebounds - the same production as Blatche in 24 minutes. Booker also had a steal and two nasty dunks. He slammed his first dunk so hard that the ball hit the ground well before he did.

do we have a chance to make the playoffs NEXT year??

You mean if they can get Harrison Barnes or Perry Jones or Jared Sullinger?

Wall's going to take the Wiz to the finals even if Arenas can't play this year. Greatest college player I've seen. I think he's already one of the best 5 or 6 players in the NBA. He'll be as good as King Labron and D-man Wade by the end of the season. I think he knew the Wiz couldn't win last night no matter what he did so he deliberately hid his moves. JWall is the man.

Uh, if you say so.

The worst part about watching the game from home last night was that it was on national TV. The announcers were just constantly reminding the viewers that the Wizards sucked, as if it wasn't obvious by watching the game. I need Buck and Phil, where they at least sound like proud yet disappointed parents. How many more national TV games much we suffer through?

One more. On Thanksgiving. Against Atlanta. Enjoy your meal.

Any news on whether Arenas' injury is just a "day-to-day" sort of thing or will he likely be out for weeks?

Arenas met with foot-and-ankle specialist Mark Myerson yesterday in Baltimore and received a shot in his injured right ankle. He'll be reevaluated on Sunday, when they can determine what the problem is. Flip keeps saying that he hopes to have Arenas for the home opener, but it seems unlikely. You have to remember, Arenas hurt his ankle in training camp. This thing hasn't gone away yet. We'll have to wait and see.

Too soon to talk lockout or are we truly headed towards a work stoppage? And how could the owners and players be so stupid to allow it to happen in a year where there may not be pro football?

People have been talking about there being a possible lockout for several years, because owners have been crying about losing millions and millions of dollars. With so many new owners joining the league -- and paying large sums to do so -- in recent years, they aren't going to be satisfied with losing money or merely breaking even each year. The owners would like to see some profits on their investments and right now, only a handful are really getting them. I don't think the owners are going to give in on this, so unless the players just cave in,  I would be shocked if they keep things going the way they are. It seems inevitable, unfortunately.

That's what makes this season so interesting, because the league could win over so many fans only to spurn them because billionaires and millionaires can't come to an agreement.

What'd you think of his play? He could have been the only silver lining for the zards. That block on Howard was sick.

I thought he had a decent game. It's really hard to single out one guy for playing well, when the team got thrashed by 29. But I was impressed that Martin shot the ball so well and played so aggressively. It may have had something to do with the fact that he's still on a non-guaranteed contract is trying to stick. His hunger might get rewarded with more minutes, so long has he's shooting like he did last night (17 points, 5 for 9 FGs).

If the Wizards were to have a down season this year, where do you think the Wizards need to be in the draft to make a big difference to this core?

A solid wing player like Harrison Barnes could make a difference. But I also think two big men like Perry Jones and Jared Sullinger could help down low. I'm just leaning towards Barnes since the Wizards' current options at small forward will all be free agents next summer.

Looking at how good Orlando has been the last few years including last night, I'm still trying to figure out how come they were outplayed so badly by the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals last year. Do they lack mental toughness that could come back to bite them again trying to get past Boston and South Beach.

What did Shaq call Stan Van Gundy? The master of panic? Yeah, the problem with Orlando last year was that they were the favorites. Boston was coming after them, going hard after a second ring together, and the Magic didn't realize how to play with them until they were down 3-0. It was too late.

Hey Michael, The TNT broadcast crew mentioned Saunders is expecting to go with the 3 guard lineup of Wall, Arenas, and Hinrich as soon as Arenas is healthy enough to play. Am I the only one that noticed Hinrich struggling to guard anyone in front of him last night? How is this guy or Arenas going to check a SF? Not to mention Orlando more than doubled up on rebounds - this gets better with a 3 guard lineup? Why not give Martin more run if Thornton can't do enough to claim that position? Heck, I think I'd rather see Yi play the SF - at least that might even some of the rebounding out. Your take on the 3 guard lineup possibility?

Kirk was struggling against Jameer Nelson, mostly. I don't think that a three-guard lineup is a long-term solution, but Flip feels that he has to keep Hinrich on the floor because he does so many things well. Considering their deficiancies in rebounding, the Wizards will need to keep Al Thornton in the mix. He had 9 points & 7 boards last night, which wasn't too bad. Thornton just looked lost on D, though.

Josh Howard looks like he can go right now, but the Wizards probably won't look right until they get him, and Gilbert back.

Is it me or do they really, really hate the Wizards? They seem to enjoy it a little more when the Wizards lose. That whole Globetrotters skit was a little much wasn't it?

Did you see how poorly the Wizards played last night? When you put up a stinker like that, you open yourself up to those kind of jokes. It wasn't any worse than how the Magic was already clowning them in the game. That was an embarrassing performance; there is no way around it.

If the Wizards had lost by eight or 10, instead of being down by 35 in the third quarter, TNT wouldn't be so hard on them. But they didn't, so they got clowned.

People need to relax about last night's game. The Wiz, one of the youngest teams in the league, starting a rookie PG, played one of the three or four best teams in the league, playing in a new arena. A veteran-laden squad with the best center in the NBA. A blowout was more likely than not. Remember last year's opener against Dallas? Wasn't exactly a harbinger of the rest of the season, was it?

Yeah, I said the same thing in my blog entry from last night's game. You can never judge an entire 82-game season by one game, but that one game was really, really terrible. Since it came on national TV, with Kenny Smith calling them the "Generals," I'm pretty sure the Wizards ticket office was blowing up for requests this morning.

And, there were some issues that the Wizards will need to address -- boxing out, playing better pick-and-roll defense, making the extra pass -- that could make them better. But they will enter almost every game with a decided disadvantage in experience. This is a young team will A LOT to learn.

Flip Saunders must have the worst shot selecting team in the NBA. JaVale took two 17+ foot jumpers. Nobody wanted to go to the rim except John Wall. For pity's sake, what's the point of buying them all iPad's with playbooks if they're just going to play my-turn basketball?

I'm sure Flip was saying the same things many times last night.

What should we expect from Wall this year, numbers wise?

I see him averaging about 16.5 points, 7.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds. That's what I wrote in my blog entry yesterday.

Would Gilbert being back, even in 2006 form, get us more wins?

Certainly. How many more? I'm not sure. They still need the bigs to step up. You have to remember that when Gilbert had his best season, the Wizards flanked him with Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, two guys who could put points on the board as well.

Alright everybody, I've got to head to practice. It's been fun. I wish I could go longer, but I can't. We'll do this again. Peace.

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Michael Lee
Michael Lee covers the Wizards and the NBA for The Washington Post. You can follow his daily beat coverage on the Wizards Insider blog.
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