Andy Pollin Andy Pollin
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In the end, the game comes down to one thing: man against man. May the best man win.

~ Sam Huff                    



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Dayenu Went Out the Door
by
Apr 14, 2014 -- 2:03pm

 

     I’ve used the word “dayenu (pronounced die-YAH-new)” in relation to the Nationals in the past.  The Hebrew word, roughly translated, means – it would have been enough.  We as Jews actually have a song that includes dayenu, which we sing every year during our Passover celebration.  It thanks God, not just for taking us out of slavery in Egypt, for the many miracles that followed.  In other words, just ending slavery would have been enough – dayenu!

     So this relates to the Nats, how?  Well, when they first came here from Montreal in 2005, they were actually pretty good.  In fact, they had a five-game lead in the National League East on the 4th of July.  It would have been enough just to have a baseball team after 34 years without one.  Now we had one that was good – dayenu!

     The on field success didn’t last.  The team had to be dismantled and rebuilt.  We went through that pain and have had a team since 2012 that should be good enough to compete for a World Series Championship.  The last Washington one was earned in 1924 – 90 years ago!

     With that drought in mind and the disappointment of the playoff heartbreaker against St. Louis in 2012 and missing the playoffs in 2013, we now longer think in dayenu terms.  We want the Nats to win now.  It not enough just to have baseball, we want winning baseball.

     As I type this, the first night of Passover is just hours away and the baseball season is just two weeks old.  The Nats record is 7-5, putting them only a game out of first place in the NL East.  The problem is, all five losses have come against the Atlanta Braves.  That’s the team they trail and the team they will ultimately have to beat out if they want to win the division.  Since the start of last season, the Nats are 7-18 against the Braves.  That’s a big problem.  And that’s problem number one.

     Problem number two is injuries.  Starting catcher Wilson Ramos and starting third baseman Ryan Zimmerman are each out at least another month – Ramos with a broken hand and Zimmerman with a broken thumb.  Starting center fielder Denard Span will miss at least another few games suffering from concussion symptoms.  Fourth outfielder Nate McLouth missed Sunday’s game with a sore knee.  And keep your fingers crossed on Danny Espinosa and Jayson Werth, who are always injuries waiting to happen.

     Problem number three is inconsistent starting pitching.  Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzlaez were each lit up their last times out.  Stephen Strasburg seems to range from spectacular to head scratching.  Last time out he was spectacular, so let’s wait and see.  But projected fourth starter Doug Fister remains on the disabled list with a lat strain and isn’t expected back until next month. 

     Problem number four – and this could turn out to be the biggest one of all – an over-managing manager.  Matt Williams is tough to figure out.  He’s not that far removed from being a player.  Players like routines.  It’s a long season.  They want to get into a grove and roll along.  It started in spring training when he ordered his players to take either a bus or golf cart to the field from the clubhouse.  Williams didn’t want any time wasted walking.  Now he puts out lineups that have Bryce Harper anywhere from 7th to 2nd.  Werth has been all over the place in the llineup.  Ian Desmond has been in different spots.  And who knows, it could be affecting him in the field.  He’s totaled five errors in only a dozen games.  That’s not good.

     So as you can see, there’s no dayenu coming out of my mouth.  See the Caps as a reference.  The window to win is not that wide.  A season lost because of injuries, a mental block against the top rival and a rookie manager learning on the job, would be a shame.

     If that happens, forget dayenu.  All you’ll hear from me is kvetching.


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Hall of Fame Memories
by
Apr 07, 2014 -- 3:20pm

 

I’ve mentioned this to Gary Williams several times over the last couple of years.  His years of coaching at Maryland (1989-2011) coincided with the growing-up years of my two children.  Samantha was less than a year old when he took the job and Jeremy wasn’t even born.  By the time Gary retired, she was in law school and he was in college. 

     What I’ve told him is that some of our best times as a family were spent watching his teams play either at Cole Field House, Comcast Center, or most often – on television.  Not that we won’t ever watch a Maryland game together anymore, but now that the kids are grown, it won’t be quite the same as it was during the days that Gary was sweating through his suit.  In a way, the end of the Gary Williams era marks the end of kid- raising for my wife and me. 

     His election to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame puts a period on that.  Gary Williams is absolutely Hall of Fame worthy.  Even without the National Championship in 2002, he’s the third winningest coach in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference, behind two guys you may have heard of - Mike Krzyzewski and Dean Smith.  With 668 wins, he more than John Wooden and was a winner at every stop, American University, Boston College, Ohio State and Maryland.  I feel like we’ve raised two Hall of Fame kids, but I guess most parents feel that way.  There’s no award for that, nor should there be.

     Like most Maryland fans who watched the Gary Williams years at College Park, we’ll cherish the memories of all the great wins.  Some, like the National Championship, are memorable for obvious reasons.  But we all have favorites for personal reasons.  I’ll never forget and never will let Jeremy forget the Drew Nicholas game-winner over UNC Wilmington in the 2003 NCAA Tournament.  The 11-year-old who went to bed in tears that night thinking the game had been lost, came downstairs when he heard the commotion of the rest his family celebrating the unforgettable shot. 

     Jeremy learned that night to never give up on Maryland, a lesson Gary Williams learned rebuilding a program left in ruins before he got there.  Thanks for everything coach.  You left behind memories – Hall of Fame memories - for generations that will last a lifetime.

 

Alfred Morris Might Want to Hang on to That Car

 

     Morris was a newly-drafted sixth-round draft pick out of Florida Atlantic when he sat down with Steve Czaban and me at Redskins Park two years ago.  Not only was he an unknown, his team had finished 1-11 the year before.  He seemed at best to be a long shot to make the team. 

     However, the kid was instantly likeable.  And as he not only made the team, but became a starter and a star, he never lost that likeability.  Among the stories that began to surface about Morris was his car. 

     Though a sixth rounder, he was making enough money to at least be able to buy a new car.  Nope.  Morris was driving the same 1991 Mazda he’d bought used in college.  The car is nearly as old as he is.  He called it his “Bentley.”

     When the car wouldn’t start after a road trip, Morris eventually caved in and bought a new one.  Smartly, Mazda took the old one and restored it.  The publicity was well worth it and the car has become part of his image.  He seems grounded in every way.  It has all made for a wonderful story.  However…

     Before Morris even considers buying a real Bentley, he might want to consider what’s happening to his position.  Running back, once second to quarterback, the most glamorous position on the field, has become devalued. 

     In the third year of his rookie contract, he’s due to make $600,000 this season.  Nice money, but a far cry from the $14.4M that Adrian Peterson makes in Minnesota.  And just a handful like Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy ($9.7M), Chicago’s Matt Forte ($7.9M) and Kansas City’s Jamal Charles $5.23M) are really raking in the big bucks.  Assuming Morris stays healthy, there will be a pay day for him – here or someplace else.  How big a pay day?  Good question.

     As writer Andy Benoit discusses on Peter King’s MMQB site at si.com, Alfred Morris is not the once in a lifetime find that star running backs like him used to be thought of.  You can get running backs late in the draft.  As Mel Kiper has told us during his weekly appearances on the Sports Reporters on Sportstalk 570, taking a running back in the first round of the draft doesn’t make much sense anymore.  As for what kind of  pay day Morris can expect, Benoit writes:

 

Morris will be an interesting case study because he’s a traditional downhill grinder, not a multidimensional hybrid weapon like McCoy, Charles or Forte, offenses are increasingly fitted more to versatile back.  Will Morris, a productive, one-dimensional back (who in the cruelest terms, could be characterized as a “poor man’s Adrian Peterson”) garner big money?

 

The problem is that a runner like Morris is, theoretically, more valuable in his early 20’s than his mid 20’s.  The inherent wear and tear of the job is obviously to blame.  If teams truly believe they can draft a back like this in the late rounds, then Morris – the poster child in this case – could be shortchanged.  Cruel irony.

 

     In the old days, Morris would have had a contract extension by now.  Clinton Portis got several and it got the Redskins nowhere.  With the fiscally-responsible Bruce Allen running the show, don’t rule out one of the greatest draft finds in team history getting the short end of the stick. 

     Fair or unfair, that car Alfred Morris calls his “Bentley”, may serve more function than form in a new NFL he helped create.  Just business.


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Final Four Returns to the Dallas 28 Years Later
by
Apr 01, 2014 -- 2:42pm

 

They’re calling this the “North Texas” Final Four.  That’s fine.  The games are being played in Jerry Jones’ massive AT&T Stadium (Jerryworld), which is located in Arlington, Texas, about halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth.   North Texas sounds sexier than Arlington.  So be it.

     I was at the last Final Four played in that area.  It was 1986 and they played it smack in the middle of downtown Dallas at Reunion Arena, which was connected to the Hyatt Hotel.  What looks like a big basketball, is on top of a tower at the Hyatt.  It’s one of the landmarks of the Dallas skyline.  Reunion Arena is gone and so are Final Fours played in basketball arenas.  The NCAA went to all domes after Kentucky beat Syracuse for the title in 1996 at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

     That 1986 Final Four featured Duke, Kansas, LSU and Louisville.  Duke and Kansas were number one seeds, Louisville was a two seed and LSU was an 11 seed – the lowest seed to reach a Final Four until George Mason made it in as an 11, 20 years later.  Their star player was a 6’7” center named Ricky Blanton.  After stunning Purdue in double overtime in the opening round, Dale Brown’s Tigers managed to get by Keith Lee and Memphis State, Mark Price and Georgia Tech, before beating Kentucky by two to get to the Final Four. 

     Kansas was led by Danny Manning, a sophomore who would put the Jayhawks on his back two years later to win the National Title.  The coach was Larry Brown, who liked to play a backup point guard for about 10 minutes a game, named Mark Turgeon.

     Duke was the number one, number one seed with a ton of experience.  Mike Krzyzewski’s first big recruiting class had ripened into four outstanding seniors – Mark Alarie, Jay Bilas, Johnny Dawkins and David Henderson.  A junior from Northern Virginia named Tommy Amaker played the point.  They had made a name for themselves coming out of the ACC, but their coach was participating in his first Final Four and not yet a household name.  I was a young reporter for UPI and spent part of the day before the semifinals walking around with a piece of paper with K-R-Z-Y-Z-E-W-S-K-I written on it, asking people to pronounce it.  Few knew how and nobody offered up a “Coach K”.   And in an era when not everybody had cable yet, Dick Vitale wasn’t instantly recognized in the hotel lobby, nor had he become completely smitten with Duke.  It was a long time ago.

     In fact, it was so long ago that the player who would be named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, never even considered leaving early for the NBA.  That was Pervis Ellison, who would lead Louisville to an easy road to the Final Four.  The Cardinals, coached by former John Wooden assistant Denny Crum, who also had won the 1980 title, were never really challenged in their four games leading up to Dallas.  Their closest call was in the Elite Eight, where they beat an Auburn team by 8 that had blown out Walter Berry’s top seeded St. John’s team in the second round.  They were better than most gave them credit for.

     Saturday’s semifinals went as expected.  Louisville ended LSU’s magic carpet ride with an 11-point win and Duke topped Kansas – though the Jayhawks were hurt by the loss of Archie Marshall, who went down with a knee injury in the first half.  That set up a Louisville – Duke final for Monday night.

     Sunday each team was made available to the media for an hour.  Louisville’s session wasn’t particularly memorable, but Duke delivered something that I still remember 28 years later.  Krzyzewski lined up his four seniors at the podium and a reporter asked each of them to talk about their hopes for the following season.  Henderson, Dawkins and Alarie, who would go on to play for the Bullets, all talked about being in the NBA.  When the microphone was handed to Bilas, he said, “I’d give my right arm to play in the NBA, but I don’t think the league is looking for any one-armed players. “  With a line like that, I knew then that he’d be a good candidate to do what he’s doing now.

     Unfortunately for Bilas, his final college game the next day wasn’t as successful as his one-liner.  Playing center at 6’7”, he was giving up five inches to Ellison.  It proved to be too much.  Ellison finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds in Louisville’s 72-69 win.  Nowadays that would mean an instant skidoo for the freshman to the NBA.  At that time, the idea was never even seriously discussed.  Even Magic Johnson stuck around for two years in college. 

     Ellison wound up staying three more years at Louisville without getting another sniff of the Final Four.  He never really showed much improvement, but was still made the number one pick of the draft after his senior year in 1989.  But the Sacramento Kings were so disappointed in the selection, they unloaded him to the Bullets only a year later.  He actually was named comeback player of the year for the Bullets, but did little else to distinguish himself here.  Ellison finished his career at the end of the Celtics bench. 

     So here it is, 28 years later, and like Duke, we have another number one, number one seed loaded with seniors in Florida and a freshman-dominated team like Louisville in Kentucky.  If the two win their semifinal matchups on Saturday, their Monday meeting for the National Championship will have a similar feel to 1986 – even if they’re playing in North Texas (Arlington) and not Dallas.


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Sweet Sweet 16 Wins for Maryland and Georgetown
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Mar 27, 2014 -- 5:14pm

 

Maryland

 

1973 

Maryland 91 – Syracuse 75 -  The Terps had five players in double figures, led by senior Jim O’Brien’s 22.  Freshman John Lucas had 21, while sophomore big men Tom McMillen and Len Elmore combined for 28, with Elmore pulling down 14 rebounds.  Dennis Duvall, who would later play for the Bullets, led Syracuse with 22.  Even though this game was played 41 years ago, Jim Boeheim was already coaching at Syracuse, assisting head coach Roy Danforth.  Maryland would go on to lose to Providence in the Elite 8, 103-89.  Ernie Digregorio led the Friars with 30.’

 

1975

Maryland 83 – Notre Dame 71 – Coach Lefty Driesell was using a 3-guard offense, which worked well in this game.  John Lucas had 24, freshman Brad Davis finished with 16 and Mo Howard had 10.  Owen Brown, who would die of a heart ailment a year later, scored 18.  Adrian Dantley led the Irish with 25.  Maryland would go on to lose in the Elite 8 to Louisville 96-82, despite 27 from Lucas.  Junior Bridgeman, who would later be part of a deal that would send Kareem Abdul Jabbar from Milwaukee to Los Angeles, had 13 for the Cardinals.

 

2001

Maryland 76 – Georgetown 66 – Even though this was billed as the “Battle of the Beltway”, it was played 3,000 miles away in Anaheim.  Maryland used a 7-0 at the end of the half to go up by two and never trailed the rest of the way.  Lonny Baxter had 26 points and 14 rebounds, while holding Hoyas big man Ruben Boumtje Boumtje to zero points.  Maryland would go to beat Stanford 87-73 to advance to its first-ever Final Four.  Baxter outscored the Stanford twin big man duo of Jason and Jaron Collins 24-21 and would be named MVP of the Regional.

 

2002

Maryland 78 – Kentucky 68 – The Terps had four in double figures; Juan Dixon 19, Lonny Baxter 16, Chris Wilcox 15 and Byron Mouton 14.  Tayshawn Prince led Kentucky with 17.  Maryland went on to beat Connecticut 90-82, despite 32 from Caron Butler, to get back to the Final Four.  They beat Kansas by 9 and Indiana by 12 to win their only National Championship.

 

Georgetown

 

1980

Georgetown 74 – Maryland 68 – Despite Maryland stars Buck Williams and Albert King combining for 33 points, the Hoyas were able to get balanced scoring.  Sleepy Floyd led Georgetown with 18.  But in the Elite 8, despite 31 from Sleepy, Georgetown lost to Iowa 81-80, blowing a 10 point halftime lead

 

1982

Georgetown 58 – Fresno State 40 – the point guard and son of coach Jerry Tarkanian, Danny Tarkanian, was no match for the swarming Georgetown defense.  Sleepy Floyd led Georgetown with 22.  Freshman Patrick Ewing had 15.  In the Elite 8, Oregon State with future Lakers star AC Green was no match.  The Hoyas won 69-45, holding Green to just 10.  In the Final Four, Georgetown beat Louisville, but lost the famous final to North Carolina where Michael Jordan hit the winning shot and Fred Brown threw the ball away in the final seconds to give the Tar Heels the win.  Coach John Thompson handled the moment by hugging Brown.

 

1984

Georgetown 62 – UNLV 48 – Patrick Ewing, who would be the national player of the year, had 16 points and 15 rebounds to help smother the Runnin Rebels.  They would have little problem with Dayton in the Elite 8, winning 61-49.  The defense was even better suffocating Mel Turpin, Sam Bowie and Kentucky 53-40 in the Final Four, before taking care of Phi Slama Jama Houston for the National title 84-75.  As game wound down, John Thompson gave Fred Brown another hug.

 

1985

Georgetown 65 – Loyola 53 – Senior Patrick Ewing was too much of a force, scoring 21 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Loyola star Alfredick Hughes was completely shut down, hitting just 4 of 13 shots to finish with 8 points.  Georgetown easily got by Georgia Tech to get back to the Final Four.  They beat St. Johns by 18 in the semifinals, but lost the famous final to Villanova – one of the great upsets of all time.

 

1987

Georgetown 70 – Kansas 57 – This was the team known as “Reggie and the Miracles.”  Reggie Williams, who had played on the national title team, took this team on his back.  He outscored Danny Manning 34-25.  Manning would lead Kansas to the national title a year later.  Although favored in the Elite 8, Providence, coached by a young Rick Pitino, beat the Hoyas 88-73.  Billy Donovan and Darryl Wright each had 20 for the Friars.  The next season, Pitino was coaching the New York Knicks.

 

1996

Georgetown 98 – Texas Tech 90 – Sophomore Allen Iverson led the way with 32 points and Othella Harrington had 23.  But in the Elite 8, they would fall to UMass, coached by a young John Calipari, 86-62.  Iverson had 23 as the Hoyas shot only 35 percent.  Marcus Camby led Umass with 22.  A couple of months later, Iverson would become the first Georgetown player to leave early and became the number one pick of the NBA draft.

 

2007

Georgetown 66 – Vanderbilt 65 – Jeff  Green and DaJuan Summers each had 15, while Roy Hibbert finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.  The Hoyas, now coached by John Thompson III, went on to beat North Carolina 96-84 in overtime with 22 from Green to get back to the Final Four for the first time in 22 years.  They would fall to Ohio State in the semifinals.


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What is Redskins Nation?
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Mar 25, 2014 -- 2:04pm

 

     The letter posted by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder on the team’s official website Monday night, opens this way:

 

To Everyone in our Washington Redskins Nation:

 

     Never mind the message of the letter – the announcement of what Snyder calls, “the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.”  And never mind whether or not you agree or disagree with Snyder’s claim that, “Most – by overwhelming majorities – find our name to be rooted in pride for our shared heritage and values,” – it’s the first line of the letter that I have an issue with.

     I watched my first Redskin game with my dad in 1966.  He had been watching the Redskins since Sammy Baugh played in the early 1940’s.  Between us, we’ve seen nearly the entire history of the team in Washington.  I don’t feel like I live in “Washington Redskins Nation” and I don’t think he does either. 

     Seriously, how do you feel about the owner of the local football team addressing you as being in “Redskins Nation”? I live in the United States.  Being identified as part of a nation implies, to me anyway, that there’s some type of citizenship that one can get either get by immigration or by birth.  And in my case, being the son of a Redskin fan, does that make me a native of “Redskins Nation”? As natives, maybe there’s some type of symbiotic relationship with actual Native Americans.  That, as we all know, is garbage. 

     While we’re at it, let me ask you – do you know when Redskin fans started referring to themselves as being part of “Redskins Nation”?  As I said, I’ve been a fan of this team for nearly 50 years.  I never heard that term until recently. 

     Raider nation?  Yes.  Those are the guys who sit in sections 104-107 when the team is at home.  They are led by Tooziak and Violater, who show up with their faces painted silver and black and have spikes and plastic skulls coming out of their jerseys.  That area of the stadium is also know as “the Black Hole”. 

     Raider nation actually originated in Los Angeles, where the team played from 1982 to 1994.  The scary group of fans that would travel from Oakland to LA for home games during those years became know as “Raider Nation”.  Redskin Nation?  Doesn’t have any meaning for me.  It just seems to be a cheap rip off of something that was created by Raider fans more than 30 years ago.

     As for the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, good for Dan Snyder for addressing a need.  You may question his motives, but there is no question there is poverty and disease on many of the reservations.  If the foundation is able to bring some aid, of course that’s a good thing.

     The question is what will this do for the continuing debate about the team’s name?  I’m with those who believe it should be changed and eventually will be changed.  My neighbor is Native American and equates the name Redskins with the n-word.  Because the foundation is doing good work for Native Americans, it doesn’t excuse the continuing use of what some consider a racial slur.

     Ray Halbritter of the Oneida Indian Nation in New York, tells the Washington Post, “We are glad that after more than a decade of owning the Washington team, Mr. Snyder is finally interested in Native American heritage, and we are hopeful that when his team finally stands on the right side of history and changes its name, he will honor the commitment to Native Americans that he is making today.”

     Spoken by a member of an actual Native American Nation, not “Redskins Nation”.  Whatever that may be.


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One Play
by
Mar 18, 2014 -- 1:53pm

 

     It was only one play in a season filled with tens of thousands of them, but we may one day look back on it as a turning point in the fortunes of the Washington Wizards. 

     It happened in a road game last Friday night in Orlando, where the Wizards had lost in their previous seven trips.  The Magic have the third-worst record in the NBA, but playing in the shadow of the happiest place on earth – Disneyworld – they’ve made life miserable for the Wizards.  And late in this game, the Magic appeared ready to ruin another night. 

     It was two days after the Wizards had suffered a brutal 98-85 loss at home to the Bobcats.  They had gone ice cold down the stretch.  That stretch carried over into this game.  A step-up performance was needed and John Wall delivered. 

     Down six in the 4th quarter, Wall put the team on his back and hit the shot that tied the game at 87 with just over 10 seconds to play.  His strong defensive effort caused Victor Olidipo to miss a 3-pointer at the buzzer.  Overtime.

     Back and forth they went in the extra period.  With less than a minute to go, Jameer Nelson knocked down two free throws to give the Magic a 97-96 lead – the 7th lead change of overtime.  And at the other end, Nelson made a steal and was on his way to a layup that seemingly would put the Wizards down three in the final seconds.  That’s when the play happened.

     Bradley Beal sprinted up the court like a man possessed and blocked the Nelson layup attempt off the backboard.  Wall, also showing good hustle to get up the court, grabbed the rebound and passed it across half court to a wide open Trevor Ariza in the corner.  Ariza drained the three and the Wizards were back up for good, 99-97.  They held on to win 105-101. 

     Yes the block, rebound, pass and 3-pointer is just one play in one game in the middle of March.  But let’s think about what happened there.  Beal, known primarily as a shooter, made a monster of a defensive play.  Wall, who’s been criticized for his decision-making, instantly looked pass and found the open man for what turned out to be the game winner.

     What we saw was another key step in the development of what could be one of the great backcourts in the NBA for years to come.  So far, Wall and Beal haven’t made anybody forget Frazier and Monroe from the 70’s or Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge of the 80’s, but they have come a long way together over the last two seasons.  Wall is already an All Star and Beal could get there next year.  T-shirts have already popped up at the Verizon Center that read “House of Guards.”

     If you’ve been sleeping on the Wizards, thinking they’re a lock to have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs in a bad Eastern Conference, check the standings.  The East isn’t so bad anymore.  Chicago, Brooklyn and Charlotte are all playing well.  The Wizards, who are currently in the fifth spot in the East, could easily slip down to 7th or 8th.  That means a first round matchup with either Indiana or Miami.  That would almost certainly mean a first round exit.

    This week’s western road swing through Sacramento, Portland and Los Angeles is big.  Not big in the sense of what it means for the Wizards championship hopes this season.  This is not a championship team – this year.  But if and when they get there, we may someday say it was that one play in one game in mid March in Orlando that helped ignite it all.


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