December 3, 2017

Kids Club News

If you know anything about me from reading this blog, you know how much I love bobbleheads. They are a central focus of my life as a Wizards fan and I'm in favor of any way to get any additional team-issued bobbleheads. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you'll know I've been fairly critical of the Wizards frugality in the bobblehead department. While teams like the Golden State Warriors or Dallas Mavericks are issuing five, six, ten or 12 bobbleheads in a season, the Wizards have stuck to their guns with the steady one per season.

But over the last couple or three years, the Wizards have started to show more flexibility. Four years ago, they offered a Martell Webster bobblehead with the Slam Dunk Kids' Club membership and then continued that tradition over the next three years with bobbles of G Wiz, Otto Porter and then Bradley Beal in street clothes. Now all you had to do to get more bobbleheads was find or invent a kid, pay $20 and pick up a free-quality team issued bobblehead. Then last year, the team issued a Monumental Rewards-exclusive Scott Brooks bobblehead. Things were looking up up up in the bobblehead department for Wizards season ticket holders.

Then this past summer, Monumental Sports and Entertainment made the decision to cancel the Monumental Rewards Program. Just like that, an opportunity for additional bobbleheads disappeared, along with my 97,107 Monumental Rewards points. Now, it seems they've done something similar with the Kids' Club.

No, the G Wiz Kids' Club hasn't disappeared. But the bobblehead component has. At least for this year. I've been tracking the Kids' Club announcement on an almost daily basis by checking the page on the Wizards website based on a promise from the team to have something announced by the end of November. They finally swapped out the information from last year in the last couple of days. This year for your $24.99 (yes, they raised the price) you or your kid (real or imaginary) get a drawstring bag, earbuds, pedometer, lanyard and water bottle. My niece already has a drawstring bag and water bottle from past years' memberships. I get the fitness focus for this grab bag but do we really need kids wearing pedometers? I say bring back the bobblehead.

I'm assuming part of the deal here is that the Wizards just feel like they ran out of bobbleheads to include with the Kids' Club. Martell Webster was an ideal fit for the Kids' Club because of how focused he was on his family. Otto Porter has also had a presence at Kids' Club events (as has Kelly Oubre, Jr.) so he seemed like a good bobblehead to issue. G Wiz of course fits well since his name is on the Kids' Club. Last year's Bradley Beal seemed like a stretch.

So an ideal theme for Kids' Club bobbleheads to me would be rookies. But since the Wizards have a tendency to just totally disregard the value of draft picks most years (including this year and last year), I guess they can't do that. Kelly Oubre, Jr. would be great but he just had an all-fans bobblehead giveaway last year. John Wall? The team already issued three Wall bobbles over the last few years (four if you count the season ticket holder only "starting lineup" bobblehead set). Marcin Gortat or Markieff Morris? Maybe a little scary? Not too popular with the kids? Markieff especially?

So why not go a little deeper into the team? I know issuing a bench player bobblehead goes contrary to the Wizards recent history of bobblehead issues (with the exception of Jordan Crawford instead of Emeka Okafor in the aforementioned starting lineup set) but other teams do it all the time. The Mavs issued bobbleheads 12 deep last year. If you made the team, you pretty much got a bobblehead. This year I could easily see Jason Smith who seems great with kids based on me standing in line for about five minutes at Six Flags to get Jason's autograph and who just had his first kid this summer. If he's not good, what about Mike Scott? He's covered with emoji tattoos. What kid doesn't love emojis??? Reach a little here, Wizards.

I'm dreaming, I know. Consider this blog post my appeal to bring back the bobblehead component of the Kids' Club next year. The Wizards know where I am if they need my input.

Is this the all-time Wizards Kids' Club bobblehead collection? Here's hoping the answer is no.

December 2, 2017

The Capital City Go-Go

Between the first and second quarters of last night's win over the Detroit Pistons, the Washington Wizards made an important announcement, revealing the name and logo of their minor league or G League affiliate which will begin play in the fall of 2018. The name? The (drumroll please...) Capital City Go-Go!!! The logo? Well, that's the picture at the top of this post.

How good are the name and logo? I'll get to my thoughts on that in just a minute. Let's talk about some more practical considerations before we get to the fan stuff.

From a basketball standpoint, yesterday's announcement is a next step forward in what is an important process and one which frankly the Wizards have been trailing most of the rest of the NBA on for a significant period of time. For sure, rolling out a name and a logo doesn't make a minor league franchise any more real but this process has steps and this is one of them. It now allows fans to believe that we are on schedule with having a support franchise of our very own.

Why is this so important? Well, in addition to bringing pro basketball to more people in this country at a more affordable price point, having a dedicated farm team allows concentrated player development and rehabilitation assignments. This year, 26 of the 30 NBA teams have G League franchises that are singly affiliated, meaning either that the two franchises are owned by the same organization or that the operations of the minor league team are run by the parent franchise. That means that the coaching system is identical between the two teams, allowing faster development of young talent or rehabilitation assignments for players coming off injuries in a basketball playbook environment exactly the same as they will find when they get to or back to the NBA.

The Wizards ain't one of those 26 teams with a dedicated G League affiliate. That means the League has way less value for the Wizards than about 26 other teams. In fact, this year the Wizards have used the G League only because they pretty much have to. Devin Robinson and Mike Young were signed to two-way contracts which allow them to play in both leagues under specific guidelines and salary structures. So far, the Wizards have confined both to the G League and left it at that. The only way they could have had less involvement so far is if they just opted to not sign any two-way contracts at all.

So how are Robinson and Young developing? Right now, no clue. Devin is playing the Philadelphia 76ers way on assignment to their Delaware G League franchise. Mike is learning how the Phoenix Suns do things down in Arizona. Earlier this week they actually played each other in a game. Assuming the G League franchise is actually interested in developing another team's players, does this setup sound ideal in any way? Not to me it doesn't.

So how else might not having a G League franchise hurt a team? Well, earlier this week, the Chicago Bulls announced they would be sending Nicola Mirotic and Zach LaVine to their nearby G League team for a rehab assignment. They are not the only team to have done this in the past. There's no way the Wizards are going to send some of their NBA players to another team's minor league affiliate so they just simply don't have that luxury available to them. The Wizards are a step behind here.

Capital City Go-Go shirts were mandatory shirt wear during second half warmups last night. 
So about that name and logo.

Really? The Capital City Go-Go???

OK, first, let me say I appreciate the effort to do something different. Of the 26 teams currently in the G League, 11 of them have nicknames that match their parent franchise (I'm counting the Iowa Wolves in this number) which is both unimaginative and sad. The best names in the G League are the ones that existed before single affiliation was a concept. The Maine Red Claws, Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Fort Wayne Mad Ants and Reno Bighorns are all awesome names. The Capital City Go-Go certainly matches the spirit of these names, just like the Memphis Hustle did when that franchise began playing this year.

I also appreciate the effort to create a name that's place specific instead of generic. Warriors can come from anywhere, as can Wolves, Raptors and Stars. There's no place else that Go-Go (named after D.C.'s own go-go style of music) can come from.

So what's my problem, you might ask? Well, there are a few issues. First, I object to the Capital City moniker. I am going to think of The Simpsons every time I read or hear that. In case you are not a Simpsons fanatic, in one episode Homer self-appointed himself the mascot of the local minor league baseball team the Springfield Isotopes and was so successful that he got sent to Capital City to pinch-mascot for the world-famous Capital City Goofball. Of course, he failed. I like Capital. Just not Capital City. I've had Tony Bennett in my head all day singing the Capital City song from The Simpsons. Hate that!

Second of all, it's not really very sports-y. It used to be mascots were concrete things like Orioles or Cowboys or Jets or Hawks or something like that. I get that some teams have appropriated more abstract concepts like weather (Heat or Lightning) but now we are dealing with sounds? I guess the Jazz is the same way. And how is the name going to roll off the tongue when the team's on the court? Are we going to chant "Let's go Go-Go!"???

Finally, and the biggest reason really, is that nobody outside of D.C. is going to get it. On one level, I love that. It's like an inside joke that everyone is in on except people not from the District. On the other hand, nobody really cares about the G League nationally and it's going to be ultra-confusing to explain to other people what my Capital City Go-Go shirt means. It's just going to bring up endless questions. 

Some nicknames have hidden meanings: I love how the Charlotte Hornets name references a quote from Lord Cornwallis during the Revolutionary War. But the great thing about the hornets name is it works whether or not you understand the hidden meaning. The Memphis Hustle is another name with multiple levels of meaning. The Go-Go name is just confusing and there's no hidden meaning although until it's explained, nobody's going to get it on any level.

And then there are the logos. We got three last night. The (what I assume will be) primary logo at the top of this post, a partial version of that same logo with just the bongo drum with basketball patterned drum head and then the alternate logo which features a note with three stars over a silhouette of the District of Columbia.

I think the primary logo is fine. I'm not crazy about the "Capital City" font but other than that I am pretty ambivalent about the whole design. My biggest objection is the name itself. Because the name makes up most of this logo, I can't imagine I'm ever going to be purchasing any apparel with this logo on it.

I actually like the secondary logo a lot. I don't like the red background but if the team sells shirts with this logo on it that are not red, I could see myself owning one or two of these things. It represents the District way more than the name itself. I'm surprised, and actually refreshingly so, that the team didn't make basketballs out of the circles on the note. Basketball logo designers have a way of turning every circle on a design into a basketball. Not doing that here was a good move.

I'm not sure I have the answer to what I wanted here. I wrote a post last year on this blog where I wondered what the name of the team would be. My answer was Capital Bullets, although I really liked my Ward 8 Wizards suggestion better over time. My answer was non-creative. The Capital City Go-Go is way more creative. But I just don't like it. Maybe I'll warm to it over time. I expected today that I'd be hunting around on the internet to see where I could find a t-shirt with the new team's logo on it. I haven't done that and I don't think I'm going to do it any time soon. I'm disappointed here. I get it. But I don't get it. Oh well.

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!!!