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Game 68 Preview & Thread: Wizards at Nuggets (7pm MST)

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60143_wizards_basketball_medium_mediumIf it weren't for the woeful New Jersey Nets, the Wizards would be neck-and-neck with Indiana for "worst team in the East" honors. I couldn't think of a better opponent for the Nuggets to get back into the win column.

Watching the fourth quarter of the Nuggets game against the Rockets last night, I was convinced that this preview would be another one of my "the Nuggets are quietly the hottest team in the NBA right now" pieces and that the Nuggets would be looking for their eighth straight win when Washington came to town.

Unfortunately, in spite of a spirited effort (especially by Carmelo Anthony) against the Rockets, the Nuggets ultimately lost by a mere two points and we'll have to settle for rooting for a team that's won six of their last seven games. But hey, things could be much worse...we could be the Washington Wizards, inarguably the NBA's biggest disappointment of the 2009-10 season.

Prior to the season kicking off, the Wizards were selected by many (including yours truly) to finish fourth in the Eastern Conference...which is like finishing ninth in the Western Conference. The thinking was a team stacked with talented players like Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, Mike Miller, Randy Foye and Andray Blatche coached by the usually solid Flip Saunders, the Wiz would rebound from a disastrous 2008-09 campaign and contend in the East.

Little did we know that the players would tune Saunders out almost instantaneously, the Wizards longtime owner Abe Pollin would pass away, a few charter plane ride card games would go absurdly awry, Wizards teammates - including the team's star, Arenas - would pull guns on each other in the locker room and three of the team's best four players would be traded for expiring contracts. Rarely in NBA history has a team gone from being an up-and-comer to a complete rehabilitation job so quickly.

I happened to be in Washington and attend a Wizards game at the Verizon Center just days after the Arenas story broke. Granted, they were playing the equally woeful Pistons that night, but the arena was half full (or is it half empty?), the players were listless and the entire atmosphere had a "we're just going through the motions" feel to it, from the players to the fans in the upper rafters. It's an understatement to say this, but the Wizards are in disarray and this should be to the Nuggets advantage...regardless of how genuinely exhausted the Nuggets must be right now.

SCOUTING THE WIZARDS

Wizards Stiffs

-Gilbert Arenas: Arenas has been one of my favorite NBA players that doesn't wear a Nugget uniform since I saw him score 35 second half points against us as a member of the Golden State Warriors during the 2002-03 season. That following offseason, the Nuggets took a shot at Arenas but the Wizards paid more, so we settled on Andre Miller. Unfortunately, Agent Zero has been nothing short of an absolute zero for several seasons in a row now due to an assortment of injuries and exceptionally bad judgment. Oh, and he's owed $22.3 million...four seasons from now.

-Josh Howard: Longtime readers of this blog know how much I loathe Howard, a perennial Nuggets pest when he played small forward for the Mavericks. But after ruining his Mavericks career thanks to a shitty attitude and questionable off court habits, Howard was banished to the Wizards, talked trash about the Mavs on his way out the door and subsequently tore his ACL and is done for the season. Howard's contract has a "team option" of $11.8 million that kicks in next season, and somehow I suspect the Wizards won't be anteing up.

-The rest of the team not named Andray Blatche.

Wizards Non-Stiffs

-Andray Blatche: If there's been one benefit to the departure of stalwarts like Jamison, Haywood and Butler it's that Blatche has been able to develop into the players Wizards fans were hoping for. Blatche routinely goes for 25-plus points and 10-plus rebounds, but he's also a bit of a turnover machine.

-Abe Pollin: If you want to learn a bit about recently deceased Wizards owner Abe Pollin, read this.

Opposition's Take: Bullets Forever

Photo courtesy of AP: Alex Brandon