MEMPHIS — I got off the plane and jumped in a hired ride to my downtown hotel in Memphis this morning and the driver asked what I was here for. I told him the Wiz-Grizzlies game. And his reply was definitely not something that you would have expected to hear when this season started.
“Oh! Washington?!” He said then laughed. “Yo, we got this! Wizards lost to Minnesota — the worst team in the West the other night! Yo, ask Agent Zero how it felt two weeks ago to get his pocket picked clean by the young, Tyreke Evans of Memphis when they played Sacramento! Hahahaha! Our boy showed Agent Zero what was up!”
Wow. The Washington Wizards, who entered this season with championship aspirations, now a locking stock — even in Memphis, where the Grizzlies for three straight seasons now have failed to crack the 25-win mark.
The young Grizzlies were expected to again rank among the lottery contenders in the league this season, but appear to be turning things around. For the month of December, they are 7-4 and enter this game having won the last three games at home. This season, Memphis is 5-0 at home when playing teams under .500. Not good news for the 10-18 Wizards.
Leading the way is Zach Randolph, who in the last five games is averaging 25.6 points and 16.4 rebounds a game. Antawn Jamison will have his hands full, and Flip Saunders said the Wizards will have to give him some help on the block, but at the same time, they can’t forget about Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo, who also are potent offensive threats.
The Wizards will start Gilbert Arenas, Randy Foye, Caron Butler, Jamison and Brendan Haywood. Foye has some discomfort in his left knee which stems from a collision he suffered last week against Philadelphia, but Saunders said it isn’t bad enough to keep him out of the lineup. JaVale McGee will, however, sit tonight, suffering from a sore right knee. He’ll be inactive and Mike James will be active.
The Wizards are trying to bounce back from a dreadful loss to the Timberwolves on Saturday, and they’re hoping to find better balance and better ball movement than what they had in that game as well. You may have noticed it, but Saunders sprinkled some of the Princeton offense into Saturday’s game plan, when he ran “Forwards out” — a play that brings Jamison and Butler out to the high wings and sends his two guards down — and likely will do so again tonight. Saunders said it’s not a sign that he’s giving up on his playbook. Instead, it’s a look he’s had in his arsenal for years.
“We used to run that all the time for Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace. For us it was ‘fist-up-roll.’” Saunders said. “My offense has always had different things, different looks. You want to have an offense that is diversified so if something’s not going well, you can go to something else. This is a situation that opens the floor up more and makes sure you swing the ball from side to side. We’ve done some of it as far as our two-guard offense. I’ve done it some to take some of the pressure off Gil with handling the ball with him not handling it as consistently, but we’ve done that. We’ve had that all year.”