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Hoop it up all week with SI.com's writers in the NBA Playoffs Blog, a daily journal of NBA commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3:30 PM ET, 5/7/06

Wizards must address defense

Posted by Chris Mannix
WASHINGTON -- What do you do?

What do you do when the best play from your best player just isn't enough? In Game 7, Gilbert Arenas played the full 53 minutes and scored a game-high 36 points. Arenas was every bit LeBron James' equal, save for the waning moments in overtime. After a missed free throw, James sidled past Arenas on the free throw line. A few words of encouragement, LeBron? "He said if I missed this free throw, you know who is going to win the game," Arenas said. "You know what -- it's exactly what I would have said."

What do you do when your defense fails you? Based on rumblings inside the locker room, Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld was the angriest man in the Verizon Center on Friday night. Grunfeld is the architect of Washington's pro-offense, no-defense unit that lost three games this series by a total of three points. Washington returns largely the same unit next season, but if the Wizards hope to avoid a similar fate, Grunfeld must acquire a stalwart defensive presence. Free agent Antonio Davis would fit in nicely. Don't expect much from the draft: The Wizards don't pick that high and the draft just isn't that good.

What do you do when the coaching lets you down? I'm on record as being an Eddie Jordan fan. Jordan has the intelligence to be a good coach and the bravado to be a great one. But every time a defensive stop was required this series, the Wizards came up empty. Washington had a six-man rotation this postseason (Etan Thomas and Michael Ruffin were token contributors at best). Jordan must direct his focus to the defensive end next season. The Wizards can score with anybody; it's a stingy defense that is the hallmark of greatness.

What do you do when it's just not your year? It's worth noting that the most entertaining playoff series was decided by the self-proclaimed most entertaining player in the league. Damon Jones wasn't just cold when he came off the bench; if cold was Washington, Jones was Antarctica. Yet the 3-point specialist proved himself worthy of his gaudy contract, nailing a baseline jumper off a play where he was at best the third option. "Great shot by D-Jones," James said. "The self-proclaimed best shooter in the universe." How fitting.

What do you do when your best player is impossible to criticize? Arenas will certainly spend the summer reliving his lost free throws, but there is no question the former second-round pick elevated himself to the league's upper echelon in this series. Humble is far too charitable a word to describe Arenas, who has been as gracious in defeat as he has in victory. In a quiet Wizards locker room Friday night, Antawn Jamison faced the press. A few minutes into his inquisition, Arenas walked past. "Antawn," Arenas said. "Antawn Jamison!" Jamison smiled briefly before returning his attention to the cameras. "Someone better have a barbeque, Antawn," Arenas said. "Because I've got nothing to do tomorrow."

Some more notes from Washington:

-- Opinion time: I'm growing a little weary of the NBA's blatant overreaction to the recent string of hard fouls. Basketball is a contact sport; if you don't like it, take up badminton. We're not talking Kermit Washington here. Kevin McHale didn't get suspended for decapitating Kurt Rambis. Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar didn't keep their elbows low either. James Posey shouldn't have been suspended last week and Raja Bell was a victim of the Kobe lovefest going on in the league office. Speaking of Kobe, with the Lakers having lost their series to the Suns, Kobe should never be mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan ever again. Ever.

-- One Washington scribe has taken to referring to James as the "Big Crybaby." I'm not prepared to go that far, but there have been some difficult moments. Michael Jordan had to earn his respect, enduring an annual pummeling from Detroit early in his career. James seems to think he's entitled to it. Virtually every call aimed in James' direction results in a petulant smirk. You want respect, LeBron? Take out Detroit. Nothing is more impressive than unseating the conference champs.

-- Cleveland coach Mike Brown deserves kudos for guiding the Cavaliers to the second round, but he may have caused irreparable damage to Zydrunas Ilgauskas' career. "Decoy" would be too charitable a word to describe Ilgauskas this series. The Cavs run relatively few plays for their big men and if Ilgauskas can't get off the schneid early, chances are he won't get the ball late. Just speculating, but a demoralized center (and that's what Ilgauskas is) probably isn't the best asset against Detroit.

My prediction: Pistons in five. Anyone else?

Comments:

Posted: 9:55 PM   by Anonymous
First of all it was game 6 not 7 Gilbert Arenas could have won the game for them in the late strech but fatigue and a few mind-blogging words from Lebron did the thing. I agree with the Pistons in 5 and the Heat will advance to face them great playoff basketball is ahead.
Posted: 10:58 PM   by Dellis
I've been a fan of the Wizards for 20 years now, and we've been terrible for nearly all of them. I cannot fully express how much joy I experience in having a winning record and a tough playoff series that we nearly won. Let us not focus on what the Wizards "need" or should have accomplished; let us celebrate the joy of a rare successful season. Hallelujah.
Posted: 11:53 PM   by Anonymous
Did you even watch Ilgauskas? The guy is a big waste of space -couldn't get past Ben Wallace or Rasheed Wallace - he was either blocked or stripped of possession. Too slow afoot, a liability in the pick and roll. Verajao who is five inches shorter is a better rebounder and defender.
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