Monday, November 1, 2010 10:09 a.m.
By Ron Thompson
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Tuesday's 2010 congressional mid-term elections aren't Washington's only current obsession. The start of the NBA season has Wizards fans edgy about what gains or losses will be logged in its early days. Judging from their first two outings, that edginess might be justified.
The Wizards suffered a 112-82 season-opening loss to the Orlando Magic that could aptly be termed a debacle. In fairness, these early months find the Wizards rebuilding and refining their lineup on a few road trips against several of last year's playoff contenders. Washington has a fifteen-player roster with four rookies, and the remaining eleven averaging out to nearly four years in the league. With nine-year guard Gilbert Arenas nursing a sore right ankle and seven-year standout Josh Howard mending from ACL surgery, the numbers don't favor Washington and it has sometimes shown. The Wizards allowed Orlando's starters; just their starters; to rack up seventy-seven points of their final score! The outcome moved Wizards head coach Flip Saunders to worry about how his new squad fared: "It's one of those things, you're concerned when you bring a young team into this type of environment," he noted. "We played scared at times." Orlando also out-rebounded Flip's squad by twenty-eight.
Washington's next outing was an improvement. Though their second night on-stage closed with a 99-95 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, there seemed to be greater effort and focus. They re-grouped. Where veteran Wizards Andray Blatche, Al Thornton, and JaVale McGee coughed-up a combined twenty-two points against the Magic, their shared stats in Atlanta were more than double that. Thornton looked particularly impressive, finishing with two points more than that trio totaled days earlier. But it seemed that Wall brought the most magic against the Hawks. After Tuesday's loss, he arrived at practice forty-five minutes early to work on his jump shot. In the Saturday night game before Halloween, Wall logged twenty-eight points, two of three three-pointers, and eight free-throws of ten attempts, a welcome treat over the frightful start in Orlando. The rookie seemed especially commanding in the third quarter, putting the squad on his back and at times making things look too easy in a performance that ultimately fell shy of the finish line.
Any view of the Wizards' prospects within and beyond 2010 must stress John Wall as one of their most exceptional players on both sides of the ball. He is on course toward becoming one of the league's most likeable performers. Thoughts about their potential should also include the contributions of a healthier Howard and whether McGee can reduce his turnovers, continue his shot-blocking, and find a way to remain offensively solid. (Even now, the front office may be weighing whether to sign a veteran post player to complement McGee and Blatche.) All in all, the Wizards have many of the ingredients necessary to produce a few more wins this season. Their Tuesday home-opener against the Philadelphia 76ers could bring a vote of confidence.