By Mike Greger
The biggest news of the night breaks as I hit the entrance ramp. Wizards starting point guard Gilbert Arenas will not play tonight. He developed swelling in his surgically repaired left knee. Antonio Daniels will start at the point.
Said Coach Eddie Jordan: “He’s not close to being the real Gil, even when he has the days off. He needs more time to get there.”
Wolf Blitzer gives his pregame analysis from ‘The Situation Room.’ He emphatically states that Brandon Roy, the NBA’s reigning Rookie of the Year, must shoulder the burden with No. 1 draft pick Greg Oden on the shelf.
The starting lineups are introduced. The Jumbotron shows the Wizards starters dressed in fancy suits rolling up to the arena in sleek limos. When Arenas’ mug graces the monitor the place erupts. Even so, he’s still not playing tonight. The crowd also gives a hearty cheer for former University of Maryland star Steve Blake.
STARTING LINEUPS: Washington: F Caron Butler, F Antawn Jamison, C Brendan Haywood, SG DeShawn Stevenson, PG Antonio Daniels; Portland: F Martell Webster, F LaMarcus Aldridge, C Channing Frye, SG Brandon Roy, PG Steve Blake.
Wizards look shocked and awed without Arenas on the floor. So do the D.C. faithful. Nearly two minutes have gone by before Channing Frye opens the scoring. It’s 2-0 Portland. Don’t look now. Blazers are running and looking to push tempo early.
Fast forward 27 seconds. Antawn Jamison, the Wizards’ captain and emotional leader, sinks a three-ball. No Arenas, no problem. Back-to-back 21-footers from Caron Butler. Brendan Haywood throws down off a nice feed from Daniels. Rout is on. Wiz up, 11-2.
Blazers coach Nate McMillan calls a timeout. Frye throws up an air ball, then double dribbles. McMillan replaces him with Joel Przybilla. Greg Oden grimaces on the bench.
FIRST-QUARTER COMMENTARY: I like LaMarcus Aldridge. He is aggressive on the offensive end and draws double teams when he’s in the paint. He can also step back and make you pay from the perimeter if you leave him open. His slam with 1:23 to go in the first quarter is a thing of beauty and cuts the Wizards lead to just three. But on defense he is becoming a liability, much like his frontcourt mate Channing Frye. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if they aren’t the same person. The two are carbon copies of each other: 6-foot-11 finesse players who fear contact. They’re letting little guys like Antonio Daniels and Roger Mason slash through the lane like Jack the Ripper. The Blazers better hope Oden lives up to the hype.
Aldridge’s dunk caps a 5-0 Blazers run to make it 11-7. Ironically, stadium Kiss Cam pans to Channing Frye on the bench.
Eddie Jordan calls timeout. Andray Blatche checks in for the Wizards and promptly blocks a Brandon Roy shot. Roy has just three points so far. He needs to be a bigger part of the Blazers’ offense, if they expect to compete.
Aldridge makes an errant pass to end the quarter. The Blazers lineup at the end of the quarter reads as such: Aldridge, Przybilla, Jarrett Jack, Travis Outlaw and Taurean Green. Aldridge and Frye have combined for just five total rebounds up to this point. Przybilla has collected two since being inserted.
Score after one: Wizards 22, Blazers 15.
Roger Mason is having his way with the Blazers. He’s driving uncontested to the lane and is playing great defense. His 3-pointer with 10:09 to go gives the Wizards a 28-18 lead. Mason, who came in averaging 1.4 points per game, already has 8 points in 8 minutes.
Brendan Haywood is having the game of his life. He must have about three highlight-reel dunks tonight. The latest one draws a technical for taunting. But he keeps his composure. Haywood, along with Jamison, is cleaning up on the offensive glass, helping Washington to a 12-3 edge in second-chance points.
Following a shot clock violation by Portland – the Blazers have now turned the ball over six times – Outlaw heads to the foul line where he is booed loudly. The innovative technical team at Verizon Center is flashing images of Dallas Cowboys players and logos on the Jumbotron. Apparently, Redskins-Cowboys used to be a huge rivalry in these parts. The ploy is half effective as Outlaw makes 1-of-2 from the stripe.
But Jamison answers the call down the other end. His 3-pointer with 2:56 remaining makes it 43-32 Washington. I was beginning to wonder who the Wiz would turn to down the stretch without Arenas in the lineup. But Jamison is leaving little to the imagination. He has scored 9 points in the quarter, and has 15 for the game.
SECOND-QUARTER COMMENTARY: Where is Brandon Roy? I thought Wolf Blitzer told us he was going to have to carry this team without Oden available. But after playing almost the entire first quarter, Roy has spent most of this frame on the bench. Roy is a game-changer. He can break ankles with his skills off the dribble or spot up and put it in your eye. He needs to be in the game right now.
McMillan inserts Roy with 4:02 left in the quarter. One second later, he commits his second personal foul. Roy still has just 1 point to his name. He knocks down two free throws to give him 3 for the half.
FREEZE FRAME: The Chipotle restaurant chain does their Burrito Dash promotion where they run around the stadium handing out free burritos. Good thing the Blazers traded Zach Randolph.
KEEP IN MIND: The Wizards shot 39% from the field in the second quarter. In their last five games, they have maintained a 47.7 shooting percentage.
Score after 2: Wizards 47, Blazers 38.
Much of the same. Daniels steals and feeds Butler for a driving dunk. Wiz up, 52-38. Remember when I said Frye and Aldridge were soft? Well, take this 3-minute segment:
Jamison tear drop over Frye.
Daniels fast break with Aldridge trailing. No block, no foul. Wizards score.
Butler misses a jumper. Jamison rebounds, looks around, signs some autographs in the paint, then scores.
Daniels penetrates, Aldridge, Frye converge, Daniels kicks out to rookie Nick Young (see more below) for wide-open three.
With the Wizards dominating 66-44, it’s time for the Nick Young show.
THIRD-QUARTER COMMENTARY: Wizards fans, brace yourselves. You have a beast in Nick Young. When the rookie guard first checks in for Caron Butler with 6:32 left in the third quarter, no one knows what to expect. By the end of the quarter, Young has 10 points and a new legion of fans. Young is doing whatever he wants on the offensive end. He has range: his first points come off a 24-foot 3-pointer. He can play defense: he steals a pass and sends it down to Daniels who converts for the easy bucket. He has a mid-range game: buries a 17-footer. He also knows SportsCenter is always watching. Following an Andray Blatche rejection, Young takes a pass from Daniels, winds up and nearly brings the house down with a jaw-dropping, one-handed dunk. Welcome to the NBA, rook. Wiz up, 73-59.
Said Jamison: “I was happy for him. He’s been pushing it hard in practice. We need him to continue to learn and grow.”
Translation: This kid’s got game. Watch out. He’s the future of this franchise.
FREEZE FRAME: Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta is sitting courtside. He gets a warm ovation from a sellout crowd. Tonight marks the Wizards’ third sellout of the season.
KEEP IN MIND: The Wizards have outscored the Blazers, 32-18, in the paint. Washington also owns a 19-3 advantage in second-chance points through three quarters.
Score after 3: Wizards 78, Blazers 63.
Clinging to a 15-point lead, the Wizards press and trap Jarrett Jack. Blatche makes the steal and dunks. Brandon Roy makes a bad pass on the following series, giving Antonio Daniels an easy lay-in. Wiz up, 82-63.
FREEZE-FRAME: With the Wizards dance team and half the stadium jiving to Soulja Boy, Arenas and Butler perform their own rendition on the bench. Arenas, sharply dressed in a lime-green sweater, is head Wizards cheerleader on this night and he is active in every huddle and timeout.
STAT OF THE NIGHT: The Wizards have committed a season-low 8 turnovers, while scoring 27 points off 17 Blazers turnovers.
Nick Young is still scoring at will. He hits a fadeaway jumper and another 3-pointer to give him a season-high 17 points. Four other Wizards have season-highs in points tonight: Daniels (10), Jamison (30), Haywood (17) and Mason (8).
Final score: Wizards 109, Blazers 90.
Said Antawn Jamison: “Once we heard there was a possibility that Gilbert [Arenas] wouldn’t play, guys were really focused. We knew we needed to step it up, and take it to the next level.”
Said Caron Butler: “We had a players’ only meeting prior to the game. We know what we have to do. We read what you guys write about us.”
Blazers coach Nate McMillan mentioned he thought his team looked sluggish in the second half. Keep an eye on a change in the way they run their offense. Portland used more of a halfcourt offense in the second half. If they continue to struggle, look for that trend to continue.
Arenas should be available for the Wizards Tuesday night when they host Philadelphia. Washington has now won four straight games after starting the season 0-5.