Wizards’ Glass Is Half Full — if You Ask the Right People
A realist sees the Washington Wizards’ playoffs hopes embodied in Gilbert Arenas as he limps down the hall on his surgically repaired left knee at Verizon Center after Thursday’s practice. He smiles hopefully, but does not say anything.
The team’s other all-star, Caron Butler, does the same, encouraging his mates while sidelined with a broken right hand.
In this atmosphere, the injury-depleted Wizards, 41-41 but only 2-6 since Arenas’s season-ending injury, open their third consecutive year in the playoffs on the road today against the heavily favored Cleveland LeBrons.
Las Vegas oddsmakers and NBA cognoscenti give the once high-flying Wizards no chance to win this best-of-seven series. One victory would be an accomplishment, the experts say. “The playoffs are about star power,” Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. “And they have the star.”
Added TNT NBA analyst John Thompson Jr.: “How do [the Wizards] lose two players of that caliber and win a series? It would be a miracle.”
So it was left to the team’s owner, Abe Pollin, the self-proclaimed “nutty optimist,” to offer a positive spin on this series. “I told my players it’s five-on-five and anything can happen,” Pollin said in a telephone interview. “We’re major underdogs with two of our best players missing. But I refuse to count us out.”
Pollin, 83, the NBA’s senior owner with 42 years at the helm, remembers his 1974-75 Bullets team that won the Eastern Conference after a 60-22 regular season. “We were rooting for Golden State [48-34] to beat Chicago in the West finals. Golden State won, as we hoped, then swept us in the Finals. Go figure that out.”
“One of the biggest upsets in NBA playoff history,” is how one NBA fan and historian, Larry Pearlstein, described that series.
Jordan remembers another major playoff upset. In 1980-81, his first season with the Lakers, the team went 54-28 with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, yet lost a three-game series to Houston (40-42). “Kareem and Magic and we still lose in the first round?”
Pearlstein also pointed to Denver (42-40) upsetting Seattle (63-19) in a best-of-five first-rounder in 1994 — the final game ending with the memorable scene of Dikembe Mutombo on his back rejoicing. But the biggest playoff upset of all time? Pearlstein said it might be the 1947 Washington Capitols, 49-11, coached by the late Red Auerbach, losing to the Chicago Stags. It was the NBA’s first season and 60 years later, Pollin remembered: “I went to every game [at Uline Arena]. The Capitols won their first 19 games that season. Bob Feerick, Freddie Scolari, Bones McKinney. Great team — big upset losing to Chicago. That’s my point. Upsets happen.”
“You have to love being the underdog,” Antawn Jamison added. “Anything is possible.”
Wake Up, Smell the Baseball
Tom Boswell’s column Friday was a full-fledged dose of ice-cold reality, pointing out that through 11 home dates, the Nats, “in a frigid” spring, are averaging 20,052 fans a game — third worst in baseball and 1,520 fans fewer than the Orioles through Thursday’s games. That’s a far cry, Boswell wrote, “from ’05, when attendance surpassed 33,000 a game. Success has been kissed off for now, replaced by rebuilding the farm system.”
Boswell also accurately noted the Ted Lerner/Stan Kasten-mandated payroll reduction from $64 million to $36 million was a “partially unnecessary gamble”— but which is partially responsible for keeping many fans at home until the new stadium in Southeast opens in 2008.
Such unpleasant facts have brought me close to at least conceding that Orioles owner Peter Angelos might have had a point when he said the Baltimore-Washington region was not big enough for two big league baseball clubs. That is, until I sat next to Chris Ramsay on the Metro the other day as he headed home to Annandale.
“I love going to the baseball games,” said Ramsay, who works in employee relations for the U.S. Customs Service. “Soaking in the atmosphere, listening to the crowd, the smells and feeling the pulse of the game with the fans.”
Ramsay, who is blind, said he loves walking up to the box office at RFK — usually with his son or a friend — and buying a ticket on game day. “I take my radio with me. I have a great time. It feels so right. I’m very happy the Nationals are here.”
K Steve Spurrier, the “ol’ ball coach” now coaching ’em up at South Carolina these past two seasons, rattled a few coffee cups in his state last week when he said South Carolina would be better off removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state house. Spurrier, according to the State newspaper in Columbia, said “the quality of life in South Carolina could improve greatly by removing the flag.” The former coach of the Redskins (2002 and ’03) is one of the most popular public figures in South Carolina — at least by my last count — before he made his comments. I like Spurrier. K Waiting for Draft Day: With the draft occurring next weekend, the lights have been burning bright and late at Redskins Park in Ashburn these days. I know the wily front office must be up to something. A trade? A move up or down in the draft? Redskins One is ready. So is the helicopter. Fans are beginning to mill around outside FedEx Field in anticipation of Saturday’s draft day festivities. The media also is massing. We wonder about LaVar. We hope Adam Archuleta is happy with the Bears. K If Chicago prevails and is awarded the 2016 Olympics by the IOC, will Ditka light the Olympic torch? I hope so. K Nice touch by the Nats, who wore Virginia Tech baseball hats Tuesday night. An emotional, classy act. Charlie Manuel, embattled Phillies manager, also deserves a nod for doing the same on Wednesday. I like Charlie. He’s old and bitter. That’s my kind of AARP member. K No wind: Will we ever see my colleague, Angus Phillips, again? Phillips is covering the America’s Cup trials for The Post from Valencia, Spain, where no racing took place for four days this week, until the wind picked up on Friday. They ought to hold the America’s Cup on the Anacostia — near Capitol Hill — where there’s always wind. K I can’t get too worked up about D.C. United losing its first two MLS games, not when the regular season lasts until October and 29 games remain. United has a good team that can win its fifth MLS title. K NHL Update: With the Capitals out of the postseason for a third straight season, Sports Week’s link to the playoffs is former Caps coach Ron Wilson. Wilson’s Sharks eliminated Nashville, four games to one, Friday night in a series Wilson called “the most physical I’ve ever coached in.” Can you believe it’s been nine years since Wilson coached the Caps to the NHL Finals? More from Wilson next week. K I miss “Friday Night Lights.” I now spend my Wednesday nights reading Feinstein. Have a comment or question? Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Even with two of the team’s best players out of the playoffs, Wizards owner Abe Pollin, right, and Coach Eddie Jordan are conceding nothing. “Upsets happen,” Pollin said.