|2009/2010 NBA Season
|January 8th, 2010
The Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards, two teams in varying levels of turmoil, will take the Verizon Center court tonight. Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel already covered that angle here, so I'll just take this opportunity to link to the latest details to emerge in the Gilbert Arenas/Javaris Crittenton gun investigation, from Mike Wise; a thoughtful perspective on what the proper reaction to Arenas' behavior should be, from Mike Prada; a look at why Arenas doesn't merit our sympathy, from Kelly Dwyer; and a refutation of the idea that Arenas typifies the NBA's "thug" image, from David Steele.
With Arenas out of the lineup, Washington's options at point guard are limited at best. Randy Foye has played well against the Magic before, but he's more of a natural shooting guard. Their other option, Earl Boykins, is 5'05" and prone to over-dribbling. Jameer Nelson should be able to exploit both matchups. And I wonder if coach Stan Van Gundy might consider using third-string point guard Anthony Johnson when Boykins is in the game. Johnson has a surprisingly refined low-post game for a player of his size and position. Unfortunately, we might not get to see those skills on display tonight, as Johnson is day-to-day with a strained groin.
Washington's other bugaboo is also in the backcourt, as it allows opposing shooting guards to score 24.8 points per 48 minutes on 51.3% effective field-goal shooting. If Vince Carter is going to snap out of his 10-for-47 shooting funk against anyone, it should be Washington.
In truth, the Wizards don't have much going for them on either side of the ball. Caron Butler is a former All-Star, but has struggled mightily this year. Antawn Jamison is another former All-Star who, by all accounts, still plays hard each night. But it's not enough to buoy this Washington team, which ranks 21st in offensive efficiency despite coach Flip Saunders' reputation for maximizing his players' offensive talents. The 22nd-ranked defense isn't anything of which to be proud, either.
I feel like this game can go only two ways, without any middle ground, but maybe that's a product of my fascination with narrative: a Magic team motivated to end a frustrating losing streak breaks out against Washington and basically seals victory at halftime, with Carter doing most of the damage. Or, the Wizards put the Arenas/Crittenton distraction out of their heads, rally around Jamison, and blindside the Magic with an inspired performance that leaves Orlando agape and the Verizon Center crowd in hysterics. The latter might not be so unrealistic. OPP Guest Contributor Jon Nichols, writing for the New York Times' Off the Dribble blog, points out the following:
Given Arenas’s inefficiency on offense, generally poor defense, and the reserve of firepower on the Washington bench, though, I think they’ll be able to survive his absence.
This game is Orlando's first test of adversity since, what, Game 4 of the NBA Finals? Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals? Longer? We'll see the Magic's resiliency put to the test tonight against a team looking for a reason--any reason at all!--to forget the events of the last several days.