The question of the night, of course, is have the Wizards returned from New York mentally, or will they already be checked out before they roll out of town at the end of the week for a difficult four-game swing through the Midwest?
“We’ve proven that no matter what happens tonight, it’s going to have no bearing on how we’re playing on the road,” said Wizards head coach Flip Saunders. “This is an important game for us, because we’ve established our ability to play at home, and we’ve beaten some pretty good teams.”
Although they’ve been mired in the Carmelodrama for most of the season, the Nuggets are indeed a good team, one that is both veteran and high-scoring (1st in the NBA with 107.1 points per game), which means Washington’s ability to stay focused for 48 minutes should be tested as it was against New York last night and Phoenix last week.
And the Wizards will likely need a bounce-back performance from Andray Blatche after his shocker at Madison Square Garden.
Saunders was asked about saying that Blatche “was terrible.”
“Truth can’t be controversial,” said Saunders. “I wasn’t being critical, I was just stating a fact, just like I stated a fact after the Boston game that he was a huge factor, his passion was why we won. My thing is that, guys are that are high-caliber players – I’ve coached 23 all-stars – with Chauncey Billups, I had a saying, ‘You’re playing hard but you’re killing us.’ I think as good players, that’s part of what a good player is, is holding yourself accountable for that. I’m sure that Dray wasn’t happy with his performance. He’s doing things, he’s fighting through some injuries, maybe from our standpoint, we’ve got to rest him more, three games in four nights, playing 30 minutes in those previous games caught up to him. Those are things we’ll look at.”
Yes, about those minutes, I asked Flip whether the Wizards might’ve been better served against the Knicks when Blatche was on the bench.
“At times we were, but I think it’s also a point that just like as John [Wall] or like other guys, if he’s a main guy – he’s our low block scorer,” said Saunders. “So at some point in the fourth quarter, the games that we’ve won and we’ve beaten people, in the Boston game he gets fouled coming down the stretch, goes to the free throw line. You’re going to have to get something inside, and so our thought was that, and I said to him, went to him in the fourth quarter and said, ‘Are you ready to bring this thing home?’ You’ve got to give him an opportunity to do that. I can look back and say, yeah, maybe I probably should’ve played the other guys just because of their energy, but it’s one of those things, when you have main-type players. That’s why they’re supposedly your main players.”
The problem is, this isn’t the first time that Saunders ignored the signs and still put Blatche back in the game. He did the same thing in the Dec. 22 loss to Chicago.
“I hate to say it, but John’s had that, too,” said Saunders. “We still played John. That’s part of – sometimes in order to develop, you have to fail, and what you hope is that the fails become fewer and far between, and john has done that. And maybe we are giving Dray a lot of responsibility, but there’s also been games when he’s come through and he has won. It’s a fine line. It’s the Michael Jordan line, look up how many times he’s failed compared to how many times he’s had success taking the last shot. In looking back, we’ve just got to make sure that his energy level stays at a high energy level.
“Tonight’s that kind of game,” said Saunders, “because this is a team, their first eight players are probably more physical than our guys matched up head-on-head, at every position. We’ve got to match energy tonight.”