November 29, 2017

The First Quarter

The real title of this post should be Five Things I Hate About The First Quarter Of The NBA Season but that title is just too damn long. But that's what this is about.

With last night's win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Washington Wizards pretty much wrapped up the first quarter of the 2017-2018 season (yes, I get that the actual quarter point is halfway through tonight's game in Philly). Their record? 11-9 with five quality road wins against Milwaukee, Toronto, Minnesota, Miami and Denver. That 11-9 record is better than last year's 7-13 record at this point so that's good, right?

Well, yes. And maybe.

Yes because it's just statistically better. More wins is good. Last year the team won 49 total; this year they are four games ahead of last year's pace a quarter of the way through. All good, yes?
Maybe because after that 7-13 start last year, the team responded by winning 17 in a row at home. Can they do that again? If not, if they even go something like 12-5 at home over that span, then the current start doesn't look that good at all. Unless they can make up the number of games they drop this year vs. last year by winning a corresponding number on the road.

I'll say one thing about this start that I never expected to say (ain't this always the case with the Wizards?): I am probably more frustrated with this team than I can remember at any point in the last 10 or 15 years. That's saying a lot. There was a 19-63 season in there. There was an 0-12 start in there. There was a missed playoff year after making it to the second round two seasons in a row in there. This one is worse. Right now. Maybe it's because I'm in the moment. Is there time to turn things around? Sure. Absolutely. But right now I hate this season. And here are five things I particularly hate about this Wizards season right now.

1. Bad Losses
Last year the Wizards finished four games out of first place in the Eastern Conference. They also won every game at home in the playoffs last year. Wouldn't it have been great to have finished first overall and had homecourt advantage throughout? Not saying it would have gotten us all the way to the NBA Finals but it sure would have given us a better shot. How possible was that? Well, I wrote a post on this blog in May detailing a series of games we could have won but didn't.

If that happens again this year, I already have five games the Wizards could easily have won but didn't: home games against the then 3-4 Phoenix Suns and the then 1-10 Dallas Mavericks; a home game against Miami where the Wizards scored just 29 points in the first half and ended up losing by 3; a road game in Charlotte when they held a 9 point with 3:12 to go in the game; and this past Saturday's loss to Portland by 3 after holding a 17 point lead in the fourth quarter and failing to score a single point in the last 2:30 and allowing the Blazers to score 10 over that span.

We've had apology after excuse from the Wizards players after these losses. It's not good enough. Honestly I felt a little disingenuous writing the post last May I referred to earlier. It's difficult to win every game you should win. But these five this year? No way. No excuses. Five blown games in the first 20 is horrendous. And I'm not even dwelling on the Lakers game in L.A. or the Cleveland game here at home. One could easily argue the Wizards should have seven more wins than they do now and sit 18-2 and first in the conference. But they aren't.

2. John Wall's Injury
One of the reasons the Wizards lost at home to the Miami Heat on November 17 was John Wall's play. John managed zero points in the first half that saw the Wizards down by 21 at half and he finished with just 8 points on 3 of 12 shooting in the 3 point loss. After the game it was revealed that John's knee was swollen, likely from the intravenous fluids administered to overcome sickness and dehydration before the home game against the Atlanta Hawks the prior Saturday.

Apparently that wasn't true. Now John is in the midst of the first week of a projected two week absence due to swelling in his knee and not from the IV before the Hawks game. Instead, the story has been revised to reflect some knee-to-knee contact during the game against the Dallas Mavericks on November 7.

I'm not frustrated with John missing time. I'm frustrated with another mis-diagnosed injury to a Wizards player. This used to be a pattern. For years, the Wizards dealt with injuries and every so often the training staff would get it massively wrong (thinking Jarvis Hayes here but there were certainly others). I thought getting a new training staff in the door in the summer of 2016 would fix that and maybe I'm being too harsh over the first occurrence with the new staff. I guess long suffering Wizards fans like me are extra-sensitive. It would have been nice to get it right the first time is all I'm saying.

3. The Boston Celtics
The Wizards drew a lot of praise over the summer from a lot of folks for staying the course on their plan and keeping their team of current and budding future All-Stars (and max players) intact. In a summer that saw Cleveland trade Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics who seemingly blew up their defensive core to make that trade and sign Utah Jazz free agent Gordon Hayward, it certainly seemed like staying the course was a sensible move.

While the conventional wisdom was that the Cavs were all in once Isaiah Thomas recovered from his hip injury and the Cs would be the team of the future once their young team developed, there was a chance the Wizards could start strong while those teams were still gelling and steal the number one seed. Six weeks or so into the season things look a bit different. Standing pat looks safe to the point where the Wizards have let some teams just roll right by them. The aggressive and potentially reckless moves by the Celtics seem to have paid off big time. That team sits comfortably in first place in the East even considering they lost Hayward for the season on opening night.

This is not necessarily surprising. After refusing to commit to contracts for years so the team could sign a max free agent in the 2016 offseason, the Wizards are now overcommitted to sub-par players long term to the point where they are severely limited in the moves they can make without shaking things up. Well, maybe that's the key. Maybe we do need to shake things up. Maybe not now. Maybe later in the season towards the trade deadline. But there's one sure thing: the Celtics knew they likely couldn't win it all unless they made some big moves. So they did. And it's worked. The Wizards have preferred to stay the course and somehow they expect different results than last year. So far it's not working. I was looking forward to some good rivalry games with the Celtics this year. So far, we look like an eight seed to the Celtics' one seed. Although that might start to change if we stop dropping eminently winnable games.

4. Ian Mahinmi
So full disclosure here...this post actually started out as a post solely about how bad Ian Mahinmi's season is going so far. But I didn't want that much bad karma so I decided to expand it to cover some other issues that I am a little less angry with in addition to his participation this season. Suffice it to say I am frustrated on pretty much a nightly basis by Mahinmi's play.

Say the name Ian Mahinmi to me this season and I think of three things: defensive lapses, fouls and turnovers. None of those are positive.

Would it surprise you to know that Mahinmi leads the team in turnovers per minute played? Not John Wall (although he's close). Not Bradley Beal. Not Tim Frazier (although he's also close). Ian Mahinmi. His current turnover rate per 36 minutes is 3.5, good for first (or last depending on your perspective) on the team. Think about how much Wall, Beal and Frazier handle the ball and then think about how much Mahinmi handles the ball. On a per minute basis, Ian turns it over more. Wow!

Ian doesn't commit more actual turnovers than John or Brad or Tim, of course. The reason? He's not on the court long enough. But when he is out there, he's usually committing fouls. 8.3 per 36 minutes to be exact. That's 12th in the whole NBA but it's really worse than that. To be statistically valid, metrics like points, assists, rebounds, blocks, fouls and anything else need to have a reasonable sample size. Khem Birch actually leads the NBA in fouls per 36 minutes because he's played 2 minutes this season and collected one foul, yielding a rate of 18 fouls per 36 minutes. But because of the small sample size, the statistic is useless. If Birch had happened to hit one three point shot in his two minutes of action, he'd be leading the league in points per 36 minutes too at 54.

In the case of Mahinmi's fouls, he actually does have enough game action (at 248 minutes) to make the stat worth paying attention to. And he's really actually second in the NBA. Only one player "ahead" of Mahinmi has played over 32 minutes this year and that's the Houston Rockets' Tarik Black, who is barely edging out Jan with 8.4 fouls per 36 minutes.

Almost the biggest mystery about Mahinmi this year is he seems to have forgotten how to play defense. He is (when he's not fouling) frequently way out of position on his man and is not really the rim protector we thought we were getting when Ernie Grunfeld panicked and plopped down $16 million per over four years for this guy. I say almost the biggest mystery because the biggest headscratcher is how Scott Brooks continues to put this guy out on the floor. And what about his teammates? Is there no peer to peer pressure being applied for him to step up? I'm stumped here.

Having said all that, I thought Ian actually played Karl-Anthony Towns well last night. We need a lot more of that like every night. Otherwise I don't get why he's on the court. And one game of good performance should not get him a pass for the next 20 or so. Minutes should be earned here.

5. Fluid Tickets
Last year the Wizards introduced a new season ticket holder benefit called the Fluid Tickets Program. I raved about this program last November for the option it provided to season ticket holders when there was a home game we just couldn't get to. Instead of selling tickets for pennies on the dollar on a secondary market site, the team granted us full purchase price credit for future purchases in the same season. Most especially, it offered fans the opportunity to upgrade to better seats every once in a while.
Last year this was an awesome benefit. This year? Good but not so much. It just doesn't seem like there are many really great seats available, particularly in the VIP areas, and some games don't seem to have any tickets available at all. The jury's still out on this one for me but I don't understand why the team doesn't make tickets for every game available, unless they are getting rich off of balances left in ticket holders' accounts at the end of the year. The balances are non-refundable and don't count towards next season's purchases. I'm willing to let this one ride out a bit but for now, this benefit is trending down for me.
Tonight the Wizards are in Philly on their second back to back of the year. Then it's home against second place in the East Detroit and then a west coast swing. This thing has got to get better soon and I honestly think at least two of my complaints above are within the team's control. Stop playing Ian Mahinmi unless he earns minutes and try every minute dammit. The Wizards have proven they can win some tough games on the road and the crowd support for the first time in a long time is there at 601 F Street. Start playing hard and putting teams like Phoenix and Dallas and teams that you hold big leads on at home away early and often. Then we can start getting back to chasing the Celtics. And the Pistons. And the Cavaliers. And the Raptors. And the Sixers. And the Pacers. Start tonight in Philly, please.

November 18, 2017

Second Class Citizens

So I was going to let this whole banner thing go. Honest. And this has nothing to do with the Wiz losing four at home already. Honest. 

After the home opener this season about a month ago, I wrote a post on this blog detailing my disappointment in what I saw as something the team owed me and other long suffering Wizards fans: the first banner raising for the team in 38 years. I honestly said my peace and was prepared to let it rest. Then I read Twitter.

Yes, I get that Twitter is a pox on all of us and society in general which has been especially amplified in the last year or so with current events in our country. But it's also for me a valuable source of targeted Wizards information and a way to connect with fellow fans. And it turns out I wasn't the only one out there who was disappointed in the team's lack of celebration over something that was a long time coming. Waiting for me the next morning after I wrote that opening night post was the following Twitter feed.

And then I stewed on it. And stewed on it. And believed and agreed with every word.

Don't believe those thoughts? Let's check the facts. Then maybe after this I can let all of this go.

Over the history of the franchise, the now Washington Wizards franchise has won seven division titles: five in the Central Division, one in the Atlantic division and one in the Southeast Division.  The Washington Capitals franchise has won ten division titles: one in the Patrick Division, seven in the Southeast Division and two in the Metropolitan Division. Both franchises have won titles in three divisions over their histories. The Capitals get a separate banner for each division for a total of three division title banners. The Wizards do not. The Baltimore/Capital/Washington Bullets and Washington Wizards get a single banner with all seven years they won a division. The different divisions aren't even listed. What's up with that?

Check out all the Capitals banners and how pretty they look, logos and all.
Let's move on shall we? Meaning move on to the next complaint, not move on from this issue entirely. In addition to their seven division titles, the Wizards franchise has four conference titles and one NBA Championship. In addition to their ten division titles, the Capitals franchise has one conference title and three Presidents' Trophies (which resulted in zero conference finals appearances by the way). Both teams get a separate banner for each of their conference titles and (in the case of the 1977-1978 Washington Bullets) their championships. The Capitals' single Eastern Conference Champions banner has the team logo from that year on it. The Bullets' four Eastern Conference Champions banners do not. The Bullets logo only appears on the NBA World Champions banner.

What's up with that? The franchise with by far the most success (albeit four decades ago) has to win a championship to get their logo on a banner. The lesser successful franchise gets a logo on every single banner, even their three different division titles banners. And yes, the logos are time specific, meaning that the logo in effect during the seasons when the team won the division titles is the one used. So the Capitals not only get a logo on each banner but they also get their whole history of team logos raised to the north side of Capital One Arena.

I get that the Caps' banners are a recent overhaul. The old banners used to be substantially similar in character to the current Bullets Conference Champions banners, meaning no logos and one title (including division titles) per banner. In the Caps' case, that meant that there got to be a whole lot of banners up in the rafters even if they amounted to little real actual success. You could make the case that at that time the Wizards/Bullets and Capitals were treated equally. Except they weren't. As I pointed out in February of 2015, four of the six Bullets division titles weren't even acknowledged.

So why if the Capitals banners can get some spiffy overhaul can't the Wizards, and Bullets before them, get an overhaul too? Will it happen if the Wizards win more than one title in the Southeast Division? If that's the case, why should it? Why doesn't the south side of Capital One Arena have Wizards/Bullets banners representing the two teams' statuses equally? Why aren't there logos on all the Bullets and Wizards banners and why aren't there three division banners? Most importantly of all, why doesn't last year's Wizards team get its own banner for the sole (to date) Southeast Division title?

I'm expecting all these questions to be treated as rhetorical by the team, just as they treated my question about the missing Bullets banners almost three years ago. I'm guessing this situation isn't going to get fixed until the Wizards win another three division titles, because it appears there is space on the single division title banner for two more division titles before the team has to make a new one. In the meantime, this still sucks. I've waited 17 years for my own division title banner and the team has waited 38. I'm still annoyed by the whole thing. I sound whiny I know and I hate that.

I realize what I'm proposing is raising more basketball banners than there are now. And in case you feel that it's a space issue, that's clearly not true. The cover photo from my February 2015 post clearly shows 12 Capitals banners. I hope I never have to write anything more on this subject but I'm for sure not sure that's going to be true. Here's hoping the Wizards get the right treatment. I sort of already know it won't happen.

November 17, 2017

Road To The Finals 2017

Three years ago, Panini America introduced a new insert series into their annual NBA Hoops basketball card release which chronicled the prior year's NBA playoffs. They issued a unique card, serial numbered to a decreasing number as the playoffs progressed, for every single NBA playoff game of the prior year. They have continued to do that every year since that time.

I love these cards. It's a way for me to look back on each game my beloved Washington Wizards played last postseason. The only bad thing is the story ultimately ends in heartbreak.

Four years into this thing, I've collected one card from every playoff game the Wizards have played in the past four years. Of course, I only had to buy them three of the four years because, well (ahem!) they didn't make the playoffs in 2016. Here's this year's batch which represents the Wizards best playoff run in my first 17 years as a season ticket holder. In case you care, I also wrote about the 2014 and 2015 issues.

For the first time in 38 years, the Wizards (I'm including Bullets years in this calculation) finished the regular season with home court advantage in round one of the postseason. Their opponent? The Atlanta Hawks, the same team the Wizards lost to in the second round of their prior playoff appearance in 2015. The result? Much different. Two years ago, the Wizards lost at home in game six on a Paul Pierce buzzer beater that wasn't. This year? Well, let's say turnabout is fair play.

I have a couple of fond memories of this series. First I remember how whiny Paul Millsap was in the first two games in Washington as Markieff Morris absolutely stuffed him in game one. And I don't just mean on the court; I mean off the court too. A little physical play from Kieff turned Millsap into a no contact player. What's up with that? 

The Wizards did a great job holding serve in this one but after five games it really did look like a series that would go every game to the team on their home floor. Until John Wall's sublime 42 points in the Wizards 16 point in game six in Atlanta. The only thing better than Wall's performance was his press conference after the game. 

Sitting next to Bradley Beal at the post-game press conference, a grinning smiling John explained his back and forth with the Atlanta Falcons' Julio Jones, hip-hop artist Quavo and rapper Gucci Mane towards the end of the game when John was just unstoppable. When asked by a reporter what was "going on", John responded with a perfect "What was going on? I told 'em I was going to get 35 or more and we was going to win. And we did that." Best postgame press conference ever from the Wizards.

John gets two appearances on the first round Road to the Finals cards. Joining him are Bradley Beal and Otto Porter on the other two. On to Boston.

The Wizards and Boston Celtics spent the regular season last year beating each other at home. The Cs played two games in Washington and got beat both times. The Wiz went up to Beantown twice and came back with losses. In between the start and end of the last regular season, there was a poke in the nose, some bad blood and a game where the Wizards dressed in all black for the Celtics' funeral and beat the stuffing out of them at Verizon Center. 

Based on that season head-to-head history, all the Wizards needed was a single win up in Boston and they had the series. I thought they had it in the very first game. 16-0 Wizards. Then 22-5 Wizards. Man, this series was going to be fun! A game one upset and three Ws at home and we got the Eastern Conference Finals. At halftime it was just a five point game in the Wizards' favor. At the end of three it was a 15 point game the other way. Game one lost.

Maybe game two? Another strong first quarter had the Wizards up 13. Surely they learned from game one right? Maybe. Despite letting the Celtics to within one point in the second quarter, they carried a five point bulge into the fourth and were up five with three minutes to go before the game got tied up in the fourth. The Wizards were done in overtime, losing by ten in just five minutes of action.

The Wizards got back into it with home wins in games three and four despite the Celtics dressing in all black (not able to pull it off) but also lost Kelly Oubre, Jr. to a suspension in game five back in Boston for being sick and tired of taking elbows from Kelly Olynyk and not getting foul calls. Game five in Boston was no contest. Avery Bradley killed the Wiz. John Wall's game six dagger at the end of regulation followed by a leap up onto the scorers' table that I completely missed because I was celebrating tied it up at three apiece.

So after a six game back and forth series despite losing every game in Boston I had to think the Wizards had a chance on the road in game seven. If there were two games the road team might have won, the Wiz were the visitor in both in games one and two.

Wasn't to be. Know why? Kelly Olynyk.

Let me say that Kelly Olynyk has absolutely no business being on one of these cards. But he is because the Wizards, as they have often done with this guy, refused to take him seriously as a scoring threat. In each of Olynyk's first four seasons in the league, he's scored at least 19 once in a game against the Wizards. His best scoring game of those four years? Game 7 when he went for 26 points. This game was close...until it wasn't. The Wiz were down three with less than a minute to go in the third. Then Olynyk hit five field goals and two free throws in the fourth. How the Wiz let this guy do this is beyond me. Playoffs over. Better luck next year. Or maybe not. I'm just hoping for three rounds of cards next year.

November 10, 2017

Launch Test Kitchen v. 2.0

It's Friday, the Wizards won last night and I'm writing about food. How bad can things be. Don't answer that if you are a Wizards fan.

In March of 2015, I made my first pitch for the Washington Wizards to engage a real chef and get him or her to open a food stand in then Verizon Center. The intent of my plea was so folks like me could spend some bucks on some food that actually tastes more interesting than the typical stadium fare that is hot dogs, popcorn, pretzels and the like.
Last year, I got my wish, a rotating pop-up food stand operated by Wizards season ticket holder and chef extraordinaire José Andrés under Aramark's Launch Test Kitchen program. In an unexpected twist, we actually got four different Andrés storefronts throughout the season: about two months each of Beefsteak, Pepe and Oyamel before they mashed them into a Frankenstein-like combination of all three featuring what I assume were the most popular dishes from all three spots.

New season. New building name. New chef. New joint. Head over to the east side of the lower concourse at 601 F Street and you'll find a spot called Lucky Buns, a reduced version of chef Alex McCoy's full menu restaurant over in Adams Morgan. Alex has opened a number of pop-up experiments and full restaurants in D.C. recently (including the still active Alfie's) which would seem to match well if the Test Kitchen format from last year (i.e. multiple menus smashed into one at the end) is followed. I mean he already has a few menus developed with different sorts of foods, right? So switching things out will be easy, right?

Maybe a little context before we get to my thoughts on the switch. Alex McCoy for sure is not the household name in Washington that José Andrés is. If you are a Food Network fan, you'll maybe recognize Alex as one of the former contestants on their Next Food Network Star show, the show that seems to offer future stardom to ordinary folks but which lately has produced few stars and little entertainment over and above the contest itself. I'm not trashing it; I love the show and watch it religiously. It's just that some of the winners are never heard from again after they win.

A line is a good sign. We need to make sure places like this succeed.
So what's with Lucky Buns? Well to me any time the word buns is used in a restaurant context I think steamed buns from the east side of Asia. I'm wrong. Sort of. There's some Asian influence in some of the dishes, most notably in the chicken "bun" but there's stuff from many other parts of the world going on. I use bun in quotation marks there because while the sandwich (and the two burgers on menu) is presented on a hamburger bun, you usually don't call sandwiches on hamburger buns just "bun"s. Too much nit-picking here I'm sure.
It's a sandwich place. Two burgers. One chicken sandwich. All come with fries (which McCoy calls chips to introduce yet another different influence into the whole deal). There are also two separate fries dishes with different sauces.
Last year I tried sampling all of the dishes at the stands Jose Andres opened but failed, mostly because they swapped out before I got through each whole seven or eight dish menu. This year, I'm better situated with just five dishes and I made it even simpler than that. Let's get to the food.

The Burgers (Lucky Bun / Alfie's Bun)
There are two burgers on the Lucky Buns menu: one with an amazing array of toppings (gouda, lucky sauce, onion, pickles and arugula) and one with even more toppings (the Alfie's Bun is the same as the Lucky Bun but with pineapple, pickled beet and an egg). For the purposes of this post, I've only tried the Lucky Bun for two reasons: (1) I hate beets and (2) I couldn't taste the beef in the Lucky Bun so I pretty much can guarantee I won't be able to taste it with more stuff on it.
So therein lies comment number one: I can't taste the beef in the burger. Burgers are inherently unhealthy. If I'm going to eat a ground beef patty, I better be able to taste that beef grease as I take bite after bite of the thing. I couldn't. I got maybe a little of the caramelization of the meat from the flattop in one mouthful but I think the amount of stuff on the sandwich (mostly the lucky sauce, arugula and onion) obscured the taste of the beef. You can see in the photograph how the burger to other stuff ratio is on this sandwich. It was cooked to the right done-ness there just wasn't enough of it.

One other note: the chips were cold. Well, not cold exactly but somewhere between warm and cold. Maybe room temperature. We'll come back to that one.

The Chicken (Hot Chicken Bun)
This is a good sandwich. I mean pretty darned excellent in fact. I love the spicy heat; I love the textures from the pickles and onion; and I love the sauces which look messy when the sandwich is handed to you but don't overwhelm the chicken. I'd eat this thing again. And I probably will sometime between now and when Lucky Buns gets swapped out for a different menu. It is a messy sandwich so I'm not sure eating it at your seat is going to work super well (I downed mine at the Budweiser Lounge on the Club level) but I was satisfied with what I bought here. I like food with a ton of flavor and this dish has it in spades. Good job on this one.

My Hot Chicken Bun cost me $15. As did the burger for that matter (both burgers cost $15; I guess the pineapple, egg and beets are free?). That's a lot to pay for food at a sporting arena. The price point is my comment number two. One of the great things about last year's Test Kitchen launch is that José Andrés set his prices at a pretty reasonable level. Two of my favorite dishes last season were a beefsteak tomato burger which sold for $6.50 and the ham and cheese quesadilla which went for a mere $8. At those prices, I ate lots of food from this stand last year. At $15 per sandwich, I'm not sure I'm so inclined to eat them so often. I'd put the right price point at about $12 but that's just me. Yes, I'm angling for a discount here.

The Fries (Proper Chips / Curry Fries)
After complaining about cold(ish) fries under both the Burgers and Chicken part of this post, I'm sure you are wondering why I decided to order more fries from Lucky Buns. Well, I have to give these things a chance. With two strikes, you are not out. I had to give the place the benefit of the third strike if they were willing to swing. And in a surprise, they hit a home run.

They were hot, plentiful (like I'm thinking about two potatoes worth or something) and well cooked but just pre-crispy which I think is about perfect. Plus the malt vinegar aioli (which comes with the Proper Chips) is a big hit with me. Vinegar is my anti-beets. Give me all the vinegar I can stand please. I was actually asked when I picked up these fries if I wanted the aioli. Do people actually pass on this stuff? My first order was sprayed with sauce on half of the fries. I'm going to see if I can get it on both halves next time. And I think there's going to be a next time.

So why the hot fries this time vs. cold(ish) fries with my sandwiches? Well, I'm thinking that is has to do with timing. When I ordered my burger and chicken sandwich, I was pretty much the first one in line after Capital One Center opened which leads me to believe I got some non-fresh fries that had been sitting for a while. Comment three for Mr. McCoy: don't let Aramark do this to you. Insist on fresh fries. When done right they are awesome. When they sit...not so much. I still need to get to the Curry Fries. Maybe sometime next week?
If it seems that I'm complaining about the food at Lucky Buns, I'm really not. I love that this kind of cuisine has made its way to 601 F Street this year and last and I'll do everything I can (meaning eat it frequently) to make sure that this idea survives. Until this place gets swapped out for another concept, I'll continue to dine on the Hot Chicken Bun and Proper Chips. I just won't get them right after the doors at Capital One Arena open. Once it's gone, I'll tackle the new menu although I'm not likely to blog about the next iteration.

Go eat food here, Wizards fans. Make your own mind up about everything they have to offer up and embrace this idea. We've come a long way from Papa John's and hot dogs. Let's keep going. Hawks up next tomorrow. We'll see if the Wizards are out of this funk or not tomorrow.

From Lucky Buns' website. It's CapitAl not CapitOl.

November 7, 2017


I've tried very hard in the past five years to not be one of those bloggers who offers wild, mostly unsubstantiated, emotional opinions about whatever happens to be the subject of the blog post in question. I am still trying to do that but let me say this post may be an exception. I'm furious, frustrated and humiliated tonight and after another no-way-should-we-have-lost-that-game loss and a couple (OK, three) of beers at Capital One Arena, I'm annoyed enough to offer up one of those emotional posts that bloggers are famous for. Let me just say one thing: so far, the 2017-2018 Washington Wizards are SOFT!

This season started out with so much hope. And admittedly, we are only ten games in (and for perspective the Wizards last season started out 2-8) but so far this does not look like a team on a mission to secure the top spot in the East and then power their way to the Eastern Conference Finals or (dare I say it?) the NBA Finals.  I loved the 2-0 start. I was disappointed in a 2-2 early season road trip but I can really forgive most any loss on the road, even one against a rebuilding Los Angeles Lakers team, especially after a dominant end of road trip closer against the hapless Sacramento Kings. Taking care of that team by 30 or so was the way things should have gone.

So last week the Wizards returned home to take on the Phoenix Suns, a team which had already fired their head coach and sent their best player home for the season (today traded to the Milwaukee Bucks). They gave up 122 points to a team (as of this writing) averaging just 104.8 per game. They followed that up tonight by losing to the one-win Dallas Mavericks 113-99. The Mavericks give up an average (including tonight) of over 107 points per game and manage fewer than 100 per game. Yet against the Wizards in Washington they flipped the script against a Wizards team with a full complement of players available. This performance is not good enough. 

There's been much made of the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers being disinterested in October and November games this year because the games at this point in the year don't count. The Wizards don't have that right. Teams that have not made it out of the second round of the playoffs do not get to take it easy with the confidence they will turn it on when it counts. Last year the Wizards lost exactly zero games at home in the postseason. If they had won five more regular season games, it's not unreasonable to assume they would have beaten the Boston Celtics in the second round of the playoffs and made it at least as far as the Conference Finals. So far, they have lost two (and arguably) three easy games at home.

This past summer Kobe Bryant offered up a Twitter challenge to John Wall to make the All-NBA Defensive First Team, a challenge that Wall seemed eager to take on during the summer. As much as I love John Wall and appreciate his commitment to the Washington area, I have to say he's not meeting that challenge this season. He seems to be asking for defensive assignments which are beyond his reach. LeBron James made him look ineffective last Friday night; Harrison Barnes did the same tonight. Harrison Barnes for crying out loud!!!! I thought the challenge would make Wall more vocal and more attentive on defense. I still see the opponent blow-bys with the poke away from behind move that John loves but which frequently results in an easy basket by the other team.

Tonight John turned the ball over at one point in the game but recovered to block a breakaway layup attempt. Let me say that blocking shots on apparent breakaway dunks alone does not make you a premiere defender. Real excellence comes from defending the ball on an individual and team level on every possession. On a team level, is it just me or do the Wizards allow defensive switches to occur way too easily? Where's the fighting over screens? Where's the commitment to stop the other team no matter what?

Before last Friday's loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, ESPN posted an article where Bradley Beal offered the opinion that the Wizards are the best team in the Eastern Conference. Then they lost to the Cavs by giving up 130 to a team that had lost back to back to back to back games to the Nets, Pelicans, Knicks and Pacers. This is not the first time that Bradley Beal has offered an opinion like this, although he usually sticks to best backcourt in the league proclamations. I have just one thing to say here: PROVE IT! Stop talking and start acting. And start winning some games when you are supposed to. Stop losing to Phoenix and Dallas at home. Start caring. I honestly believe this conference is there for the Wizards to take. But as long as they assume that, they won't win anything.

As a fan, I offer one more thing. All the Wizards have done is show me that they are SOFT! Let's start manning up and playing opponents the way we need to play. Show us fans that you care about every game. If you don't, I think we will end up with another second round playoff ousting or worse.

I'll stop ranting now and get back in my swim lane. Expect an innocuous post about basketball cards or food at Capital One Arena or something like that. Lakers up Thursday. Let's not lose four in a row!!!

November 5, 2017

Schedule Magnets

Last week the Wizards finished their first west coast road trip and somehow came back with sky high confidence despite going 2-2 on that trip and losing to the Los Angeles Lakers, who had no business beating the Wizards at this point in this season. That confidence was followed up by a home loss to the even-more-pathetic-than-the-Lakers Phoenix Suns; a declaration by Bradley Beal that he thinks the Wizards are the best team in the Eastern Conference; and then a another home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers who were on a four game losing streak at the hands of the Nets, Pelicans, Knicks and Pacers. Not exactly NBA royalty. I'm not happy.

Let's move on to something far less important, shall we?

An annual rite of passage every fall for me is passing through the gates of Capital One Arena (and Verizon Center before that and MCI Center before that) and being handed a schedule magnet by a Washington Wizards staffer. This year was no exception.

Once in my hands, I make sure that it's protected and doesn't get bent or broken in any way (note: this usually just means it sits on the floor under my seat during the game) all the way home when I can finally slap it on my refrigerator and use it to schedule my life for the next six months or so. Over the basketball season, it becomes a touchstone so I can remind myself when the next Wizards game is. I know that description is all very dramatic but honestly, it's totally true. This is an essential fall ritual.

By my reckoning over the 18 years I've been a Wizards season ticket holder, I have been handed exactly 16 of these things which I've used to track my beloved team's schedule throughout the season. How do I know that it's been exactly 16? Simple: I still have all of them. Call this post my tribute to one of the silliest and most useful stadium giveaways I get year after year after year after...well, you get the point. Here are all 16 with commentary from yours truly. This season's is at the top of this post and will receive no commentary other than this sentence. And the groupings on the photos have no special significance; just want them all to be semi-legible is all. Here goes.

2002-2003 / 2003-2004
I'm not exactly sure what happened in 2001 but somehow the one schedule magnet I've missed over the last 18 seasons was that year (the team didn't distribute them in 2000, or at least I don't think they did). 

The 2002-2003 season was the last year the team was caught up in what they called at that time "The Jordan Effect". If they only knew the real Jordan Effect was to put the team's development on hold for a couple of years so MJ could get in two last 37-45 runs at glory, I have to believe the whole thing would have been stopped before it started. Although, I guess it sold a lot of tickets. The schedule magnet from this year is festooned with mini-likenesses of what passed for stars back then: Michael Jordan, Doug Collins, Jerry Stackhouse, Kwame Brown, Juan Dixon, Jared Jeffries, and Brendan Haywood. I love the promotional schedule on this one. And note, TWO bobbleheads. Ahh the good old days for the promo schedules.

In contrast to the 2002-2003 season, the next year's schedule just features one player: hometown hero Juan Dixon. Yep, after Abe booted MJ out of the building at the end of the prior season, the team was all in on Juan as a ticket seller. This was the first year Gilbert Arenas was on the team. If anyone actually understood how good Gil was going to be, you can bet he'd have been on the schedule magnet instead.  These first two seasons were back in the day when the team seemed to think they needed a slogan for each season. 2002-2003 was Pride Courage Commitment Passion; 2003-2004 was Pure Energy. They would get sillier before they went away.

Well, it didn't take long for Arenas to make his way onto the magnetic schedule. Just one year after his signing, Gil is the only player on the 2004-2005 schedule. That schedule renewed the "Pure Energy" tagline with the added "Fasten Your Seatbelts" slogan. Cool stuff, right? But it was right this season. This was the first year the Wizards made it to the playoffs since they changed their name from the Bullets, the first of four in a row. The promotional schedule is also back and holy crap, there's a lot of stuff on there. Note the three bobbleheads (!!!) in addition to the three nesting dolls. Sigh...

2005-2006 / 2006-2007
After at least three years in a row with vertically formatted schedule magnets, the Wizards decided to change things up a little and go horizontal, although the overall size was exactly the same. For year two of the mid-aughts Wizards playoffs run, the team selected a brand new slogan: One Team. One Goal. They then proceeded to load the schedule up with a top strip of headshot of Jared Jeffries, Gilbert Arenas, newly acquired Caron Butler (bye, Kwame!), Brendan Haywood, Jarvis Hayes, Antonio Daniels and Antawn Jamison. They then doubled down on Gilbert Arenas and added an action shot of Agent Zero at the bottom. No promotional schedule on this one. At this point the Wizards can't seem to figure out whether then should do that or not, having one on every other year's magnetic schedule.

They followed up the next year by going back to Gilbert only, sticking with the horizontal format and bringing back the promotional schedule. Yep, it looks like there's a ton of stuff on the list that year but in a bit of foreshadowing, some of the dates have no actual giveaways or they are completely useless. They also abandoned the One Team. One Goal. slogan and switched it to Go All In. The slogan was appropriate. And it almost worked. The Wizards actually owned the best record in the East at the cutoff for determining the All-Star Game coaching staff (meaning Eddie Jordan was the East's coach) but in typical Wizards fashion the whole thing fell apart with injuries to Butler and Jamison before Arenas wrecked his knee in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats and the Wizards got swept out of the first round of the playoffs 4-0 by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Arenas would never be the same again.

2007-2008 / 2008-2009
Three straight years of playoff losses, including two straight to the Cleveland Cavaliers, had the Wizards thinking they had a shot at it all in 2007-2008. The slogan that year? Ready To Rule! We've got AJ on the schedule screaming in celebration, Gil making a layup (I assume it went in) and Tough Juice looking pretty darned serious. The problem? Gil's knee wasn't right. He ended up playing 13 games that season in what was probably the grittiest team the Wiz have fielded in my 18 years of being a season ticket holder. Antawn and Caron willed the team to a playoff berth but succumbed to the Cavaliers (again) in six games in the first round of the playoffs. They were not, as it turned out, ready to rule at all. This would be as silly as the team-adopted slogans got. Yes, a few years later, Flip Saunders rolled out "Our Time" but ownership never put that one swag handed out to fans. Flip was wrong by the way. 2007-2008 was the last time (to date) the Wizards put the promotional schedule on this giveaway.

During the 2008 offseason, the team re-signed both Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas and got rid of Ready To Rule in exchange for Character Commitment Connection. They also decided no more Gil on the schedule magnet (smart...Gil played 2 games that year) and opted for AJ only. The slogan seemed really to be all about Jamison, whom Abe Pollin loved and respected second only to Wes Unseld it seems. Character, commitment and connection seemed to be all the Wiz had that year. They lost Brendan Haywood in training camp and the team floundered, going 19-63 to match their franchise worst record since moving out of Chicago in 1963.

2009-2010 / 2010-2011
To this point in my Wizards fan career, the team had been handing out schedules in a uniform size - about 8-1/2" by 5-1/2". Sometime they had square corners. Sometimes they had radiused corners. But they were always about the same size. In 2009, the team decided to go a little smaller. They cut the schedule in half and (if my memory is correct) used the other half of the standard size magnet for a Wizards logo, which you could use in conjunction or separate from the schedule part. I think mine ended up at work.

For the 2009-2010 season, the team continued it's Character Commitment Connection tagline and irony ensued. Two things notable that year happened: (1) Gilbert Arenas initiated bring your gun to work day which got him a felony charge from the District of Columbia and a rest of year suspension from the NBA and (2) the team cut bait on our players in the wake of another disappointing season.  Say goodbye to Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood. Say goodbye to character. Say goodbye to Commitment.

The next year Andray Blatche was the sole Wizard on the schedule. No slogan. Just Blatche. No further comment here. Won't give Andray Blatche any more time on this blog.

New Traditions. New team. New outlook. New logos. New uniforms. Welcome to the John Wall and Jordan Crawford years, folks. Yep, the schedules a bit shorter this season because of that (ahem!) lockout thing. Jordan Crawford did actually make it the whole season with the Wizards but didn't make it through the 2012-2013 season. The Wizards at this point have traded everyone that they put on their schedule magnets for the last six years except John Wall, who (thankfully) is still around. This schedule was the last time the Wizards issued what to this point is a standard size schedule magnet. It's a free for all size wise after this.

2012-2013 / 2013-2014
Can I just say that I love Nenê? This guy was the first piece the Wizards put in place towards getting this franchise back to respectability. And all it cost us was JaVale McGee at the 2012 trade deadline. Nenê earned his way onto these two consecutive schedule magnets along with John Wall. The first full year with Nenê got the Wizards just 29 wins. The next two after that got us into the second round of the playoffs both years. No slogan these years and so far they have not reappeared, meaning the last tagline the Wizards have used to date is "New Traditions." OK then. Still working on it, I guess unless making the second round of the playoffs is what that means. Better than what it used to be; just not exciting long term.

2014-2015 / 2015-2016
2014 was apparently the year the Wizards discovered that magnets could be produced in non-rectangular shapes. In 2014, they handed out jersey shaped schedules; the next year they went with logo-shapes or basketball-shaped schedules. Or if you are more cynical, circular, I guess. I'm all for innovation in schedule shapes and sizes but let me just say I've been keeping my stack of schedules in my 2000-2001 season tickets box that resembles a locker and the ball-shaped one doesn't fit in it which really rocked my world. The jersey is fine. I just don't like the size on the circular one. Still haven't solved this by the way a couple of years later. All these old schedules are housed in the box but the 2015-2016 one sits on top, as if I'm waiting for someone else to solve my problem for me. Don't even get me started on this year's design. There's no way that thing is fitting in the box. I have six and a half months to figure that out. Or not.

After a one year absence from the playoffs and two years messing around with non-rectangular shape schedule magnets, the Wizards made it back to the postseason and restored some normalcy to the schedule magnet geometry (yes, I know a circle is pretty normal). Nothing too exciting about this one. Simple, easy to read and devoid of players for the third straight year. 

That last part all changed this year in a big way as the team added all five starters to the magnet in hopes of a great year and maybe just maybe an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. So far there's been a lot of talk about doing that and not much effort on the court to stop the first eight opponents from scoring except in the Kings game but let's be honest, that was likely more the Kings than Wizards. Toronto is up tonight on the road; at 6 p.m. I know that because I looked on my magnetic schedule. Now I can put all these things back in their box. Go Wizards! Play defense and move the ball!