- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2006

After two years and two trips to the playoffs, the Wizards are still viewed in many parts as the underage guy trying to sneak into the club. How can they change that? Well, it has nothing to do with turning 21 and everything to do with making a real statement in the playoffs this year. By now, their postseason participation should be a foregone conclusion, and no one believes that more than the players. So what developments should you look for in the next 82 games starting with tonight’s game against the Cavaliers?

Q: How big is tonight’s game in run-down Cleveland?

A: Huge, my man. Sure, there are 81 games left in the regular season after tonight. But the Cavaliers sent the Wizards packing in six games in the first round last season, and it seemed as if everyone — from the general manager to the popcorn vendors — cried foul. Beat the Cavaliers tonight on ESPN with the nation witnessing and the Wizards have momentum out of the gate.

Q: Just wondering. They have lost 16 straight games to Miami, the bully of the Southeast Division. When does this streak mercifully come to an end?

A: Soon. This season, in fact. Been checking out Shaq Daddy, and he’s put on some lbs. Too much playing sheriff in his part time, too much of the championship hangover. It’s gonna take him a minute to get in shape, and in that time the Wizards are going to get that monkey off their backs.

Q: So what’s the inside dirt on why Gilbert didn’t make the national team?

A: Coach K came in knowing he wanted a bunch of drive and kick points. Gil is three times the player Kirk Hinrich is, but that’s really not his game. Remember, Coach K waited for the injured Hinrich to heal — he didn’t prove anything early — and then gave him a get-on-the-team free card.

Q: So does Gil have a vendetta against, well, lots of things?

A: He always does. Believe me, that’s a good thing.

Q: Who is going to have a breakout season?

A: I think Caron Butler is going to have an All-Star season, I really do. But if you look at the numbers he put up last season, an argument can be made he already has. So instead of going with Butler, I’m going to say either Jarvis Hayes (if he stays healthy) or DeShawn Stevenson, and that will happen in different ways than you think. Hayes can light it up, providing instant offense on many nights. But he’s also a much better defender than you have seen. Trust me. And Stevenson is the same way. Ignore what he says about leaving $10 million on the table and settling for the veteran’s minimum of just less than a mil. He’s going to be motivated. Both of their contracts are up after the season, and they both have their eyes set on moving into a higher tax bracket.

Q: What is the deal with Brendan Haywood?

A: Good question. For whatever reason, he thinks he has to start. Never played hoops for a living, but I do know that if a player is 7 feet tall and focuses on rebounding and blocking shots — forget the offensive game — he can get paid in the league for a long time. Does the name Charles Oakley mean anything to you?

Q: And what about Etan Thomas?

A: He will need to watch his back. He might be the starter tonight, but if Haywood plays the good soldier, doesn’t run his mouth excessively and shows up focused, the job could be up for grabs again by Thanksgiving. Remember, there’s no love lost between those two. They did some shadow boxing last season. Makes for a good mix at the five.

Q: How much better are the Wizards defensively?

A: Right now, not at all. I’ve heard them talk about getting tougher on defense now for the past three seasons, and it hasn’t been much more than lip service. That said, how much better is Phoenix at the defensive end? The Wizards aren’t going to win with defense no matter how hard they try. If they are better at the defensive end this year, that’s just a bonus. They are built to beat people with their offense.

Q: Like the new unis?

A: Sweet. I’m feeling the black and gold, baby. Hey, Gil, throw one this way.

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