Last night the Washington Wizards (6-10) finally looked like the team that had made the second round of the playoffs a few years ago as they beat the Toronto Raptors (7-12) 106-102 in Toronto. The Wizards “big 3″ of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison combined for a season high 72 points, while as a team they held the Raptors to 42% field goal shooting and created 10 steals defensively. With their win last night, the Wizards have now won 3 of their last 4 games since the passing of Abe Pollin.
While much of the Wizards success recently will be pointed towards the “big 3″ playing together and finally all being healthy at the same time, one can’t ignore those not included in the “3”. Brendan Haywood’s return to the Wizards starting lineup after missing nearly all of last season due to a wrist injury has been critical to this Wizards team that struggled defensively in his absence. Last night Haywood got the job of defending Toronto’s super-star Chris Bosh and flourished while doing so. Bosh still scored 22 points, but did so on 7-22 shooting and did most of his damage when Haywood was on the bench. Not only did Haywood patrol the paint for the Wizards against the Raptors, he ended the night with 15 points, 9 rebounds (7 offensive), 3 blocks, and 2 steals.
This season (Haywood’s contract season) Brendan Haywood is averaging a double-double with 10.4 ppg and 10.3 rpg, throw in his 1.9 blocks per game, 61% field goal shooting, and defensive prowess and it’s hard not to see that Haywood is just as important to the Wizards as any one else, including the “big 3″. Haywood is the perfect compliment for guys like Arenas, Butler, and Jamison. While the guys in the “big 3″ need to shoot the ball a lot to get their points, Haywood just scores off the scrapes that are left behind and since the “big 3″ focuses more on offense than they do on defense, Haywood is the cog in the paint that holds the team together.
In a time in the NBA where 7 footers are a dying breed and smaller more athletic players have been dominating the game, Haywood is a throw back. He goes out and does his job, plays tough, works hard, and doesn’t complain. Don’t get me wrong, Haywood does more talking than anybody on the court, but his talking isn’t trash talking, he talks defense, and organizes his teammates from his view in the post.
While the headlines will go to the “big 3″, the Wizards success goes beyond only three players, especially since Haywood is not amongst that group. If the Wizards want to compete this season with the top teams in the Eastern Conference such as the Orlando Magic with Dwight Howard, the Cavaliers with Shaquille O’Neal, or tonight’s matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks (9-7) and Andrew Bogut, Brendan Haywood will need to continue to be a defensive rock and a “garbage man” on offense.