Pistons 106, Wizards 103

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     Well, chalk up another loss after another disjointed performance by the Wizards.

     Washington got off to a slow start — lowlighted by an 0-for-6 opening act by Gilbert Arenas — and gradually started to recover in the second quarter, which was capped by Agent Zero popping a buzzer-beating 3-pointer on an assist from Earl Boykins.

     It was the same Boykins, who pumped life into a sluggish team when he came off the bench to start the second quarter and proceed to score 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting. And the same Boykins that had 20 points and three assists in his Welcome-back-to-the-NBA game. Mike Miller (also playing a welcome-back game after missing three with that sprained shoulder) had 20 points as well, and as Flip Saunders said, “I don’t know where we’d be without those two guys tonight.”

     The spark from Boykins and Arenas’ big shot carried over into the third quarter. Washington outscored Detroit 33-23 behind nine points from Andray Blatche and eight apiece from Arenas and Butler.

     But they suddenly ran out of gas. Up 10 (76-66) with three minutes left, Washington fell asleep, and Detroit came to life. Will Bynum single-handedly closed out the third on a 9-2 run that left the Wizards clinging to an 80-78 lead, which isn’t what good teams do, Mike Miller said.

     “The third quarter was where we lost it,” said Miller, who had 20 points with three rebounds and three assists. “I think we were up 10 with a minute and a half to go, and a good team would have pushed it to 14 or 16. I think it came down to four. That’s tough. But at the same time, we brought a lot of energy in the second half and played a lot better than we have been playing.”

     It was better, but still not very good. Washington finally had more assists (25) than turnovers (16). But those turnovers went for 20 Piston points.

     And when it really counted, the Wizards rolled over. After holding a 95-90 lead with 5:04 left in the game, the Wizards didn’t make another field goal until Gilbert Arenas’ meaningless 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds left.  During that strech, the Wizards missed seven field goals and turned the ball over four times. SEVEN missed shots and FOUR turnovers.

     This is the Wizards’ futile attempt at going down with guns blazing:

4:23 left Butler missed a jumper

3:53 left Haywood layup blocked

2:57 left Miller miss 3-pointer

2:05 left Arenas missed jump shot

1:20 left Boykins missed J

50 seconds left Boykins missed 3-pointer

9 seconds left Arenas missed 3-pointer

1.9 seconds left Arenas makes 3-pointer

     There were some crazy things about the fourth quarter. Gilbert took only three shots all fourth quarter, and it wasn’t like he was serving as set-up man, because he had only one assist in the fourth.

     In what was the first time he’s really opened up since the season started, he admitted that he’s struggling to figure out what role to play under Flip Saunders.

     “Its frurstraing for me because I know I can take over in fourth quarters … but I dont want to take away from the team,” Arenas said. [DeShawn Stevenson] got mad at me today, because in the fourth quarter I only took three shots. He said, ‘Before, this wouldnt have happened. You would have taken over the fourth quarter, even if you had to take every shot.’ I feel i dont have to do that this early because of what we have here.”

     Well the Wizards need something more from Arenas, early or not. It’s like he’s having an identity crisis. He can’t figure out which Gilbert he should be: assailant or assist man.

     But hang on, because that brings us to another problem. Arenas says he’s struggling to figure out when to turn it on because of all he has around him and he may be, but which of that talent is he going to? It doesn’t appear to be Caron Butler.

     After the 4:23 mark, Caron Butler didn’t touch the ball the rest of the game. Your two-time All-Star small forward a forgotten man?

     I asked Butler — who made back-to-back jumpers just before his team’s drought — what happened, and he said: “Don’t know. Got into a flow for a little bit, and that’s basically what you want to do; distribute the ball early and then late third quarter, fourth quarter assert yourself a little bit more and make plays. But unfortunately, just fell a little short.”

     But why? He didn’t quite say.

     “It was there,” Butler said. “I’ve just got to make myself present a little bit more and be aggressive in this offense. … I’m just going to continue to move the ball and and doing what’s asked of me; defend, and I’ve been doing a great job of that as far as not gambling, staying down and taking it personal on the defensive end who I’m guarding. On the offensive end, you’ve got to let things come to you. We’ve got a real good ball club with shooters around you: Mike Miller, the addition of Earl Boykins. So many guys, so you’ve got to use your weapons.

     “The last two or three games,” Butler said. “I haven’t been as aggressive making plays and finding my niche in the offensive scheme of things and doing what coach asks of me but at the same time, just trying to win games.”

     I’ve been trying to figure out what’s been up with Butler’s relatively quiet start to the season. Is it the system, is he just off, is it lost chemistry between he and Arenas, is he not getting the ball in the right spots?

     It’s obvious Butler is frustrated, however. Strange thing is he was at his best with Earl Boykins running the point. Boykins just came to D.C. and already is able to get Butler into a nice flow as we at one point tonight.

     “He was great,” Butler said of Boykins. “He was a guy that distributed the ball and made plays, got into the paint, made plays and a lot of times I was playing a two-man game with him. He was finding me, throwing the ball back, which was something I wasn’t accustomed to. He was throwing the ball back and getting me nice little shots, getting other guys into the offense, so he’s a pleasure to have out there, definitely.”

     Now, I don’t know if that was meant to be a jab at anyone, but it’s not a good look when one of your workhorses feels a better flow from the guy who just came off the street, than he does with your $111 man.

     Rip Hamilton, who was in this offense under Flip for three years, said before the game that he believes Caron Butler can be great in this offense because of his skills and ability to create for himself as well. But he said the key is studying the offense and trusting his system, and all of the Wizards being on the same page.

     So, what then? Are these guys simply slow to pick this offense up? Are they not trusting each other? Mike Miller said they’re gradually getting there, but that he and his teammates’ grace period is drawing to a close.

     “At some point we have to stop using that as an excuse, and that’s where the line is, when is that excuse going to be out the door? I think it’s going to be pretty quickly,” Miller said. “Like Flip said, we’ve got to trust and understand what guys are capable of doing and where they’re supposed to be. It’s a fine line. We’re 2-7 right now and pretty soon that excuse is going to be out the door like the whole rookie thing, you’re only a rookie for so long. We’ve got to start playing.”

     Flip said post-game that he expects things to start smoothing out once Antawn Jamison makes his seasond debut on Wednesday against Cleveland. The hope is that he can serve as the bridge between Arenas and Butler, and also help ease the pressure on them by spreading the floor. If you look back, Arenas and Butler have been at their best together with Jamison on the floor as well. Take away Jamison (like the stretch when he was injured in 2006-07) and the Wizards struggle.

     But even when Jamison does come back, there likely will be an adjustment period.

     “The funny part with Antawn coming back now is now we’ve got to gel and get him back into the flow,” Arenas said. “Hopefully it can be a quick turnaround.”

     It needs to be because starting with Cleveland, Washington has a tough stretch that continues with a back-to-back at Oklahoma City and then San Antonio the next day, then they come home and play Eddie Jordan and the 76ers, then go BACK to Miami, where they have not had much luck at all.

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