Guest writer and longtime Skins fanKevin Stroop stops by to give thanks before Sunday’s Redskins-Packers playoff game at FedEx Field.
This has to be one of the most unexpected division titles in Redskins history. As a fan, I am still in shock.
So how does this year feel different than the 2012 division title? Well, simply put, there were no expectations on this team this year. In 2012 there was a hint of optimism coming into the season. There was none of that this year.
We all remember the 2012 season and what that felt like. That second-half run to the playoffs and division title gave us a hint of what we thought was to come. The stadium in that week 17 game vs. Dallas was unlike anything I have ever felt. Euphoria doesn’t even begin to describe it.
We had invested so much in that team and expected so much that it felt like the payoff we deserved. We finally had a Super Bowl-winning coach and a game-changing franchise QB. Good times were ahead of us. Reality proved to be a lot different.
In 2015, we were still recovering from the aftermath of the 2012 season. The fans were apathetic. The team’s goals were simple: find out if they had a quarterback and show some improvement over last year’s four-win campaign.
Winning the division wasn’t even a consideration. For good reason, every single NFL prediction had the Redskins finishing in last place in the division. Vegas had them at 125-1 to win the Super Bowl and 15-1 to win the NFC East. Any sampling of NFL previews looked similar to this, from Bleacher Report:
This era of Washington football is dark and grim … General Manager Scot McCloughan has a long way ahead of him to rebuild this franchise, and [Jay] Gruden, while seemingly inept, appears to have job security heading into his sophomore season as the top dog. No one in Washington is thinking about laying it on the line for 2015. You shouldn’t be, either.
Earning the 2015 division title was a complete surprise. Clinching a division title in the NFL with eight wins is like finding $100 on the ground; you grab it and thank your lucky stars. Yes, the Redskins were fortunate to play in a bad division and they were fortunate to play only three teams with a winning record. But let’s not discount the team as pushovers.
They are 6-2 in their last eight games and also 6-2 at home. Kirk Cousins has put together an impressive string of games. The defense has come together and the Redskins have their key players on both sides of the ball playing well and staying healthy.
It’s not uncommon for a home team to defeat a team with a better record in the playoffs. And for all the talk about how bad the NFC East is, the Redskins were a respectable 5-5 out of the division.
Looking ahead, we do not know what 2016 will bring to this team. I think it is reasonable to assume the core will be back in Burgundy & Gold and we will eagerly anticipate the start of the season. There is no guarantee of a carryover to next season, though.
Occasionally, teams have this kind of year only to fade the next season. Look no further than the NFC East, where each team has won exactly two division titles in the last eight years, and no team has repeated as division champ since Philly in 2004.
In 2016, we may find out that Cousins is not a franchise QB. The team’s running woes may prove fatal. The defense may stink. The first-place schedule may bury them.
However, the NFC East should be there for the taking. Dallas should be better, but the Giants are doing Giants things, and the Eagles are recovering from the dumpster fire that is (was) Chip Kelly, so there is hope.
As for me, I am going to enjoy the ride this time, unburdened by expectations. I will be at the game on Sunday hoping for a win, but more than satisfied with the team if they lose. The enjoyment I’ve gotten from watching them this year has been found money, and I’m spending it without any regrets.
When I was a little kid, I wanted to draw cartoons. That was until I wanted to be a baseball player. Then a basketball player. Then working for Nike. Then work in marketing. Finally, I ended up doing none of those things and taking a job that paid well but has zero allure. So on the side, I write about sports and the teams I love.
One of those teams I love is the Redskins. Their goals have also changed. If you told any Redskins fan that the season would end at 7-9, many would have been pleasantly surprised (including yours truly). I mean, this was a franchise in August that finally gave up on RG3, the head coach was on everyone’s chopping block, the nickname was being debated on every talk show and the owner was charging $50 envelope fees. Yes there was talent on the roster, but there was no reason to think this team would be the best in the division.
Yet here we are. The Redskins are a win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday away from winning the NFC East for the second time in four years. I mean … how? What? Really? Sure, it is more an indictment of the division than the Redskins dominance, but this wasn’t supposed to be. It still may not. A loss at Philly would be catastrophic for Washington. Philly would own the tiebreaker and the Redskins would need to win at Dallas in the season finale and hope the Giants beat the Eagles. But right now, the Redskins control their own fate.
So what will happen? The Redskins have won 3 of 4 and are the hotter team. The Eagles have lost 4 of 6 (though one of those wins came in New England) and their defense has been lit up over the last two months. Bad Kirk Cousins is a memory. Since that season-changing comeback win over the Buccaneers in Week 7, Cousins has thrown 16 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions. Cousins also has more rushing TDs (5) than the Eagles’ huge free agent pickup, DeMarco Murray (4). I mean, just give them the division crown right now!
However, your gut says that this is the NFC East and Philly will be ready to knock the Redskins down a peg. Many Redskins fans (including myself) are just enjoying the ride but are prepared for the rug to be ripped from under them any game now. I admit, I was in that camp. But, like the Redskins’ goals, I’ve changed as well. This may not be a team that will do much damage in the postseason but they are the cream of the crop in a division that went sour this season. No matter, the Redskins beat the Eagles this Saturday.
Here to weigh in on Harper v. Papelbon is my real-life friend and big baseball fan/coach, Wright Way. (It’s a pen name. Get it?)
Note that I disagree with him, but I think it’s important to get this view out there as it doesn’t seem to be commonly shared by Nats fans.
There is a lot to be said for respecting your team, teammates and opponents. Respect on a baseball field is shown in a number of ways, from the way you take the field to the way you play the game. Additionally, respect is earned in as many ways as it’s shown.
One common misconception is the overlap between respect and fear. Many respected players earn the respect they are shown for the way they play the game; conversely some players are feared because of the way they play the game.
Is it possible to be both? Sure. There are current and historical players who have earned and lost respect for various reasons. There are also players who are feared for their capabilities as well as their antics.
Some examples that immediately come to mind are Derek Jeter and Ty Cobb. Both were exceptional ballplayers. Both had wonderful careers that are still doted on to this day. That is where any comparison should end.
Jeter was world class on and off the field. He was respected as well as respectful. He played the game hard every pitch of every inning of every game he participated in.
Cobb was the opposite of everything Jeter stood for. Was he a great player? Absolutely! However, it was how he played the game that kept him alienated from teammates and fans alike. Cobb was most definitely a feared player (especially to anyone covering second on a steal) for reasons far beyond what he was capable of showing in a stat line.
Fast forward to modern day and there are a number of players in the bigs who follow similar paths as those two. Do they play at the same superior level as Jeter and Cobb? Well, that’s to be determined, but when playing in today’s game of constant coverage both on and off the field it’s better to be remembered as a respected player rather than a feared one.
There are quite a few players that come to mind in the modern respected-feared conversation:
Mike Trout — Respected for the the way he plays the game, going hard every play to the point of self-inflicted injury. Feared because of what he can accomplish at the plate. Simply amazing.
Manny Ramirez — Once feared by any opposing pitcher who would face him in October, yet never respected by anyone who wasn’t a teammate, and often times by those who were.
Alex Rodriguez — Typically only feared by pitchers from April through August, and once respected by everyone until the truth of his PED scandal came to light.
Jonathan Papelbon — Now this is a tricky one. Papelbon, once known to throw hard and to be as selfless as any player in Majors, has had a change of heart. After departing from Boston his attitude changed significantly. He was no longer a team guy in Philly, and he alienated teammates and opponents alike. However, he is still and should be a feared opponent, capable of high velocity and not shy about throwing it high-and-tight to anyone he feels deserves it.
Bryce Harper — Another Tricky one. Is Harper respected? Surely by some, fans and teammates alike. Is he feared? Without a doubt. He was quite possibly the best player, statistically speaking, in Major League Baseball this season. But there’s another side to Harper that isn’t shown as much now as it was prior to 2015. It’s his unwillingness to perform when it doesn’t benefit Bryce Harper.
In one recent event the last two guys on that list were intertwined in a respected-feared incident in which they both showed exactly how two players can be a little of each, yet none of either all at the same time. Harper is still a young player who, at this stage in his career, should be doing everything possible to earn the respect of teammates, opponents and fans alike. He already has the fear of the opposition, because he can do it all on a baseball field. We know he can hit baseballs to the moon, we’ve seen his speed in the outfield and on the base paths, and he shows moments of having one of the best arms in baseball. What he doesn’t do, however, is respect anyone who doesn’t worship him.
Harper has been this type of player since he was a teenager in AAU ball. I distinctly remember a 16-year-old Harper berating an umpire over a called strike during a game that, in the grand scheme of things, wasn’t a hill of beans. It’s because of actions like that that Harper has a long row to hoe before becoming a respected player in the Majors.
Papelbon is headed in the other direction. Once a force to be reckoned with in late-game situations, he has fallen from grace. He still produces flashes of brilliance, but it’s Papelbon’s well-documented loose screws and cannon of an arm that also leave him feared for the wrong reasons and respected even less. His unrelenting willingness to throw at opposing batters for little to no reason and his reluctance to bond with new teammates leave him alone and not very much appreciated.
One thing must me stated, though, is at this stage in his career Papelbon is very much a veteran and should be treated as such, whether or not you like him, hate him or agree/disagree on his point of view. As a young player (e.g., Harper), when a veteran tries to teach you unwritten rules of the game, your ears should perk up a little.
It could be on how to read an opposing pitcher without stealing signs (this earns you a pitch to the ear on your next at-bat), or the appropriate actions to take when you hit a ball into the parking lot (don’t stare at it; everyone hits one there at some point, keep your head down and run the bases). And if you hit a can o’ corn, run the damn thing out. Are you going to make it to base? Probably not, but be respectful of the pitcher who just out matched you and RUN IT OUT.
And when you fail to abide by these and other rules of the game, a veteran will and very much should call you out on it. The appropriate action of a young player when being called on this type of thing is to acknowledge what was said, nod your head and correct it the next time. The absolute wrong action for a youngster is to spark an argument about it, disrespect the veteran and throw a jab of their own back. Actions like these when spoken, screamed, shouted or yelled to a veteran who is known to be a loose cannon will and should get you CHOKED.
The moral of the story is: Until you have been there for more than a cup of coffee, don’t kick back and put your feet on the desk. You haven’t earned it.
Last night, some friends and I got off the Metro, and I was shocked to find myself right outside FedEx Field. The streets were empty, and we tossed a football back and forth to each other in peace. No obnoxious drunks? No mile walk in the freezing rain that soaks through your boots and socks? Oh right. I was dreaming.
I could hear the announcers and the crowd, and I could somehow see through the stands to the field. Maybe the stadium was sunk in the ground? I don’t know. Don’t ask me how dreams work.
Inside, the game was starting. We were playing some sort of Vikings-Patriots-Dolphins amalgamation, and Belichick was putting Brady and Bridgewater on the field together at the same time. It was weird, but it was working. We were losing.
I walked under a brick archway and took my seat in the upper deck. There were so few people in the stands, but they were all enjoying themselves and stretching across the empty seats. A guy in my section showed me his novelty glass he got at a bar in New Orleans. For some reason. It was shaped like a rocket ship, and we laughed about it, as you do. The Vikings-Patriots-Dolphins scored, and I was pissed because it wasn’t Jarvis Landry, and I had him on my fantasy team. Even in my dreams I’m bad at fantasy. We were losing.
We were losing, but it didn’t matter. The sun was out. The beer was cold. Sometimes Alfred Morris would do something good.
After waking up from the dream, I feel better about my favorite team than I have in a long time. I immediately threw out the hundreds of blog ideas that had been floating around in my head. Before the season, I was so fed up with everything from swinging gates, to the racist name, to wondering why we support a business that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about us in the first place. But today those frustrations feels smaller.
I decide to follow my dream’s advice for enjoying the season and accept the losses. Jay Gruden won’t make me happy. Kirk Cousins won’t make me happy. Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen definitely won’t make me happy. So I’m done expecting them to. We’re going to lose a lot of games this year. Sometimes I’ll watch the games, sometimes I’ll read about them and talk about them with my brothers and friends, and sometimes, maybe, Alfred Morris will do something good.
Here with your semi-regular look at the Wiz is Mr. Irrelevant contributing writer Bryan Frantz.
Context is a funny thing.
Context is what enables you to say the Wizards were better this season than last, despite that they were eliminated from the playoffs in the same game (Game 6) of the same round (Eastern Conference Semifinals) by the same seed (No.1) on the same day (May 15), and you wouldn’t be wrong.
After all, they won two more games in the regular season than they did a year ago. This year’s 46-36 record constituted the franchise’s best winning percentage since the 1978-79 season, and it was the ninth-best percentage in franchise history.
Then again, it was also only one more win than the 2004-05 Wiz squad that featured a typical starting lineup of Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes, Jared Jeffries, Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood. Kwame Brown was on that team.
And 46 wins would have been just enough to sneak them into the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoffs this season, where they would have faced the top overall seed Golden State Warriors. Yes, the same Warriors who came within a Kevin Seraphin baby hook of holding the Wizards without a field goal for an entire quarter late in the regular season.
Here with a retro live blog of Game 3, written from a cross-country flight, is Mr. Irrelevant Capitals correspondent Brad Parker (@stopthehats).
6:47 — $8 for DirecTV on the flight including NBCSN. Card swiped.
7:00 — Is that a set without a Milbury? Things are looking up already.
7:24 — BTW, on the plane you can’t page through the guide on DirecTV, it’s one channel at a time so I’ll be hitting the back button just flipping between the game and the Impractical Jokers mini-marathon on Tru TV which somehow exists between NCAA tournaments.
7:26 — Joe’s punishment on Impractical Jokers is to walk his dog on Wall St. in silly costumes. Let’s drop the damn puck.
7:30 — John Forsland behind the mic. I guess I will be able to nap on this flight.
7:34 — Just to be clear, you can get satellite TV on a plane, but I have to put my phone on airplane mode? How will the twittersphere survive a Caps playoff game without my snark? What if there’s a hat trick? Will people throw hats willy nilly without a reminder of Sidney’s refined rules of Stanley Cup etiquette?
7:39 — I’m at 38k feet and hearing @wesjohnsonvoice, Caleb Green and Bob MacDonald. What an age in which we live!
7:42 — Dammit! The volume on this thing doesn’t have numbers. How am I supposed to set it to 19?
7:43 — I feel like we didn’t complain about the disparity in PPs enough between games and we’re already paying for it. Could have gotten a call in the first minute.
7:44 — Does Pierre really think his name is Brooks Orpeck?
7:46 — They’ve gone to Pierre about 4 times in the first 3 minutes. Each time he has talked about the Rangers exclusively. I’ve been wondering if the NBCSN coverage really is biased or if it’s just our perception. So tonight I’ll track which team Pierre talks about first each time they go to him.
7:50 — This looks a whole lot like Game 1 vs. the Islanders.
7:51 — 4 more Pierre breaks, 4 more about the Rangers.
7:56 — Chimmer being Chimmer.
7:57 — After 12 times taking about the Rags, Pierre says Washington hasn’t gotten enough credit all year. Ironic.
7:58 — PP for the Caps.
8:00 — Ovi from the Ovi spot and Pierre says Henrik studies film and knew the one-timer was coming: “His brain is like a supercomputer.” No one else in North America could have seen that coming.
8:01 — PP opportunity missed. Let’s see how long it takes for the Rags to get a PP to even it up.
8:04 — Pierre with Trots. He talks about the Rangers first.
8:06 — Seriously considering hitting the call button and asking flint attendant for a Caps goal. Think she’d be displeased?
8:07 — Another Caps PP.
8:08 — Where the hell is Backstrom?
8:09 — Great chances but nothing yet.
8:10 — Another one killed. Rags PP coming before this period ends.
8:16 — End of 1, no score. Pierre count (times talking about said team first in his hit): Rags 18, Caps 4.
8:20 — Q had 30 seconds to get a feminine product from a stranger in the park. No dice so it’s punishment time. They dress him in a Peter Pan costume and tell him he’s going to have to join a live musical in progress but when he hits the stage it’s really pro wrestling.
8:34 — Second period underway, Pierre talks about the Rags but in a negative way.
8:35 — Rags PP coming on Alzner’s DOG.
8:37 — Serious turbulence, on the plane not the ice.
8:37 — Killed.
8:39 — Has St. Louis ever gone 3-straight games without destroying the Caps? Someone call Elias.
8:40 — First time I’m noticing he crowd being loud.
8:41 — Caps hold the puck in the Rags zone for 2 full minutes, Pierre compliments Rags.
8:43 — BEAGS!!!! I tweeted during Game 1 that no one has ever been more due than Beagle is now. That goal was earned in Games 6 and 7 vs. the Isles. 1-0 Caps 7:31 of the second.
8:49 — Scrum starts in front of the net and DirecTV goes out. We can land a rover on Mars but we can’t get a continuous DirecTV feed on a commercial flight for … it’s back.
8:50 — Feeling a little nauseous. Not sure if it’s the turbulence or having to pay attention to Pierre to keep an accurate count.
8:52 — Captain cuts the game audio to tell me it’s going to be bumpy for another 15-20 minutes. Maybe it’s not Pierre (it’s Pierre).
8:55 — Caps are buzzing, 3 good chances for the Wilson line. Pierre is silent.
8:58 — St. Louis on a breakaway, here it comes. And he shoots it harmlessly right into Holby’s chest. This is not the Cap killer I know.
9:00 — Glencross all alone in the slot, denied. Why the hell did he use up all his goals in his first week with the Caps?
9:07 — Pierre: “We’re gong to have to come up with a nickname for Holtby.” So true. Whoever comes up with a good one will be a beast. A Holtbeast as it were.
9:09 — End of 2, Caps 1, Rags 0. Pierre count: Rags 29, Caps 12 (3 about the goal and one entirely consisted of him saying “a man possessed” about Ovi.)
9:15 — If this game goes to OT will I have to do pushups in the aisle? Must get a message to @puckbuddys to confirm.
9:22 — Impractical Jokers marathon update: It’s the one where Sal is a tour guide on a boat and they make him kayak back to shore. Quality TV.
9:26 — Another pilot announcement about turbulence.
9:28 — Nash just destroyed Orpik. Pierre says it’s darn close to boarding then praises him. Not the Ovi treatment.
9:29 — One minute later they call the same hit on Wilson and it’s ok because of his reputation.
9:33 — KILLED.
9:34 — Did you know that the final score of the baseball games played at CitiField on Saturday and Sunday were both Washington 1, New York 0?
9:36 — Pierre just went on national TV and said that a 3-time Hart Trophy winner who is in the top 3 in PPG in the playoffs among active players has been a breakout player in these playoffs. This is everything that is wrong with the hockey media.
9:39 — This plane is bouncing like the puck at MSG the day after a Clapton concert.
9:43 — I wonder when they’ll give the Rags another PP.
9:52 — Rags just had roughly 57 chances, still 1-0 with 7:30 to go.
9:54 — Ovi to Alzner … off the post. Holy crap it’s loud!
9:56 — Any clear is a good clear. GET IT OUT.
9:57 — 3:13 left and they’re going to break with just crowd noise. Obviously, we are louder.
9:58 — Impractical Jokers update: Murr has his mouth full of novocain and he has to teach a class about cuisines of the world and sample the foods. Brilliant.
10:00 — Can we ask St. Louis not to play the final 2:16?
10:02 — Empty net.
10:03 — St. Louis can hang off the crossbar without his skates touching the ice, adorable.
10:04 — 47 seconds to go.
10:06 — Not 1.3 please.
10:06 — CAPS WIN! Never in doubt.
10:06 — End of 3, Caps 1, Rags 0. Pierre count: Rags 37, Caps 18. Goals scored on shots taken from in front of the net: 0.
I guess I’ll have to take a cross-country flight every game the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
10:08 — The past three professional sporting events between teams from the nation’s capital and the big apple:
Washington 1, New York 0
Washington 1, New York 0
Washington 1, New York 0
10:10 — Hey @NBCSN, can you just play a feed of John Forsland talking so I can sleep the rest of the flight? Wait, Parks and Rec is on, never mind. Best $8 I’ve ever spent!
Caps correspondent Brad Parker (@StoptheHats) returns to preview the Caps-Isles series. He’s joined by his longtime hockey teammate and friend LJ, who is a diehard Islanders fan (apparently those still exist). Brad asked the questions, LJ gave the answers. We thank them both.
1. The Islanders led the Metro division for most of the season. Why?
Main reason has to be the offense. The Islanders were 4th in the league in goals for.
An improved defense as well. Garth, who gets killed as a GM, made two incredible acquisitions before the season started in early October on the same day. Nick Leddy was acquired for a very good defensive prospect (Ville Pokka) and a pick, and Johnny Boychuk for a couple of second-round picks. The fact that Stan Bowman traded Leddy rather than Oduya is insane — Leddy would be the best defenseman on the Blackhawks not named Duncan right now. It goes to my theory that NHL coaches are by and large morons. Quenneville didn’t trust Leddy as much as he trusted others, and during their Stanley Cup and playoff runs, he was relegated to a sixth- or seventh-defenseman role.
Boychuk, meanwhile, given a first pair role after playing behind Chara and others, was also deemed expendable for salary cap purposes by Boston, and he shined with career highs in most categories. Ask Claude Julien whether he would rather have had Boychuk or Zach Trotman coming down the stretch. Boychuk is what Caps fans wish Brooks Orpik could be. As a plus, his brothers might be the funniest in the NHL family on Twitter (outside of Luongo).
Here with your semi-regular look at the Wiz is Mr. Irrelevant contributing writer Bryan Frantz.
Let’s recap the Wizards season so far.
They were really good up until the end of January, going 31-15 through January 27.
Then they were godawful and excruciating to watch not as good the next five weeks, falling to 35-28 in a brutal stretch that included losses to cellar-dwellers such as the 76ers and Timberwolves (back-to-back in fact, by a combined 28 points).
Now, they appear to have regained at least some of their early magic, winning four games in a row by an average of 18 points an sitting at a very respectable 39-28.
So the million dollar question: Are the Wizards good again?
Here with your semi-regular look at the Wiz is Mr. Irrelevant contributing writer Bryan Frantz.
In my last post, I wrote the following sentence about the Wizards head coach: “Randy Wittman doesn’t necessarily deserve to keep his job, but firing him would be the wrong move, at least during the season.”
Anybody who knows me personally knows I have never been a fan of Wittman, so I felt somewhat dirty writing that sentence. I’ve been trying to go easier on the guy, as he seemed to be improving slightly, plus the Wizards were playing damn good ball for the first 40 or so games, and it’s rarely a good idea to fire a coach in the middle of a winning season.
No more. I’m done with this guy and his inability to manage a game.
I was at the Jan. 21 game against the Thunder, when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook outscored the Wizards 13-11 in overtime en route to a 105-103 OKC victory. Nobody is going to blame Wittman, or the Wizards, for allowing two of the best scorers in the NBA to dominate — that’s just what they do.
Westbrook scored the go-ahead points on this wide-open layup in part due to botched defense, and Bradley Beal shouldered the blame for the loss.
The Wiz still had a chance to tie or win it, and with 0.8 seconds on the clock, Wittman got to draw up a final play. Ideally, the Wizards would look for a lob toward the hoop or a jumper by Bradley Beal or Paul Pierce. After all, the Wizards had already won a game this season by Andre Miller lobbing an inbounds pass to Beal on a fantastic play call.
So would they run a similar play? No. They ended up with this dumpster fire of a play.
I walked out of the Verizon Center that night ranting and raving to anybody who would listen about Wittman’s play-calling inadequacies. Still, I reasoned that the Wizards were playing well overall (29-14 at the time) and, again, I’m not a big fan of firing a coach midseason.
This past Wednesday night’s game against the Raptors, the Wizards’ finale before the All-Star break, not only broke the camel’s back but took a 2×4 to that poor camel’s legs.
With eight full days off before the Wiz play again, I would love to see Wittman replaced, though I know he’s not going anywhere.
Here is a list of some of the ridiculous shit Wittman pulled in a crucial game against one of the top teams in the East, in no particular order:
1. Drew Gooden, whose playing time has been all over the place, played every second of the fourth quarter. He also played the final 2:53 of the third, meaning he played 14 minutes and 53 seconds without coming out of the game. Wittman’s explanation?
2. Marcin Gortat, the team’s starting center in all 54 games this season, didn’t play a second in the fourth. CSN Washington has more on this.
3. Otto Porter Jr., who started in place of an injured Beal, also did not play in the fourth. He was replaced by Garrett Temple at the same time Gooden replaced Gortat in the third, and that was the last we saw of either starter.
4. Temple also played the rest of the game, excluding the final 13 seconds.
5. John Wall played the most minutes of any Wizard, as he often does, with 37. Pierce was next with 30. Then came Gooden, who played just 46 seconds less than Pierce, followed by Temple with 27. Temple and Gooden played more minutes than three healthy starters.
6. Beal missed the final three games before the break. In the first game, Porter started in his stead and had a solid game while the Wizards cruised to a win. The following game, Wittman inexplicably benched Porter for Temple, who received 26 minutes to Porter’s 11, in another Wizards win. But that’s not all, folks! The very next game, the Raptors game in question, Porter was again named the starter but played just 21 minutes.
7. So to recap, and because I still need to convince myself that it actually happened: Wittman sat two of his starters, who were both having decent games, for the final 14:53, and played Gooden and Temple instead. In the final few minutes of a massive game for the Wizards, Garrett Temple and Drew Gooden were on the court. Let that sink in.
8. I will concede that Gooden had a solid game, with 10 points, 12 rebounds and three assists. But he was terrible in the final minutes, he offers virtually no defense and he can’t dominate the paint like Gortat and Nene did in the first three quarters. Plus, Gortat was having a fine game!
9. Through three quarters, the Wizards outscored the Raptors in the paint 40-24; with Gortat sitting and Nene getting less than seven minutes, the Wizards scored just two points in the paint in the final frame.
10. Speaking of the Brazilian big man, Wittman did his best to stop Nene from taking over the game. He was perhaps the best Wizard through three quarters, having knocked down seven of his eight shots for 14 points to go with four boards, three assists and four steals. In the third quarter alone, Nene made all four of his shots, dished out three assists and added two steals. Of course, Nene and Porter were the first guys subbed out in the second half, because Randy Wittman.
11. So after a straight-up dominant nine minutes in the third, Nene got relegated to the bench for the next eight-plus minutes while Kevin Seraphin went 0-for-2 with a single rebound.
12. Even more perplexing was the timing of the substitutions. This is what happened in the minutes before Gooden and Temple replaced Nene and Porter: The Wizards were down by one, went on a 16-5 run to open a 10-point lead, then called a timeout for reasons that escape me still. It was 73-63 when Wittman took the timeout and made the subs. Toronto went on a 12-3 run to close the period, and the Wiz opened the fourth up by just one.
13. After the game, Wittman complained that his players turned it over too many times during that 12-3 run. He also claimed the Raptors took the timeout, though both ESPN.com and NBA.com attribute the timeout to the Wizards.
14. I’m no coach, and it’s silly for fans to say they could do better, but this is just basic game management. Don’t call timeouts and make substitutions when your team has all of the momentum. Coaching is not an easy thing to do, but he didn’t need to coach at that moment. He just needed to stay quiet and let his team continue doing its thing. Maybe certain players needed a breather, but he can’t disrupt the mojo then blame his players.
15. In the fourth quarter, the Wizards went just 7-for-22 from the field, including 5-for-17 by the bench. The Raptors also slumped, shooting just 7-for-16, so the Wizards had a huge opportunity. They blew that opportunity by allowing Gooden to take more shots in the fourth period (six) than the entire starting lineup combined (five).
16. And finally, speaking of huge opportunities, what the hell was that final sequence? A reporter asked Wittman more or less the same question after the game, and he responded that there were numerous options on the play and a long Wall three just so happened to be what materialized.
17. Forget that Wall was 1-for-5 from distance thus far in the game, not even close to the best shooter on the court at the time, and that the Wizards didn’t even need a three. None of that matters to Wittman. Anecdotally speaking, probably 75 percent of the Wizards’ quarter-ending plays are Wall isolations. Wittman and others argue that just because it ends as a Wall iso does not mean it was drawn up that way, but it seems a bit strange that they always seem to end up that way. That’s not Wall’s game and everybody seems to know it’s coming—and I don’t just mean opposing defenses.
I just gazed into my crystal ball. ISO a John Wall jump shot.
Because the Wiz and the Witt shat the bed for the final 15 minutes of the game, Washington dropped from third to fifth in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors completed the season sweep, winning two of the three games by a combined six points (the other was a blowout), and now have a 3.5-game lead and the tiebreaker over the Wizards.
To put a bow on this sloppy rant, I nominate Avery Johnson to replace Wittman. (For what it’s worth, George Karl had been my choice all season, but he’s no longer on the market.) Some may look at his final three seasons as a coach (2010-12 with the Nets) and see a 60-116 record, but I see a guy that won big with a good team and improved a bad team.
Johnson was named Coach of the Year for the 2005-06 season, when he guided the Mavericks to a 60-22 record, then followed it up by leading them to a ridiculous 67-15 record the next year. He also has a career .577 winning percentage, compared to Wittman’s .390, and is far more entertaining and likeable on the bench.
Enjoy the All-Star Game, and who knows, maybe Wittman will steal another coach’s playbook and lead the Wizards to a championship.
Here with your semi-regular look at the Wiz is Mr. Irrelevant contributing writer Bryan Frantz.
Having lost seven of their last 10 games, things are looking somewhat bleak for the 32-20 Wizards. Most of the losses came against quality teams, adding to the narrative that the Wizards simply can’t hang with top teams, but two losses to the sub-.500 Hornets in four days and a handful of injuries have soured the mood.
The two schools of thought here are: a) The Wizards are simply slumping and will bounce back or b) their early success was a fluke and now they’re regressing back to their norm.