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SportsMonday: Six Degrees Of Playoff Losses

I can take certain players leading the charge for the Wizards against the Bulls.

John Wall is an emerging star in the league. A fan expects him to impact big games in big ways. Bradley Beal is one of the best young shooting guards in the Eastern Conference. And Marcin Gortat and Nene are strong players - in more ways than one - in the hearts of their careers.

But Andre Miller? I mean, he was over the hill three years ago, wasn't he? Yet there was the veteran reserve guard making the plays that put Washington in front in the fourth quarter Sunday in the Wizards' 102-93 victory over the Bulls in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.

There are degrees of losing, and Blackhawk and Bulls fans experienced a remarkable run of the worst of the worst over the weekend.

Eventually Wall replaced Miller for the final few minutes and it was the big guys - Gortat and Nene that is - who finished off their foes. But for a long stretch of the fourth quarter the key Wizard was a player who early this season no fan could have imagined even being on the team.

Miller, who is 38 and in his 15th NBA season, had a big falling out in Denver with coach Brian Shaw right after the new year. The player who starred at Utah at the collegiate level along with long-gone Keith Van Horn, for gosh sakes, had been known as unfailingly soft-spoken. But as his playing time dwindled and then disappeared he lashed out.

The fourth-oldest player in the NBA, at least as of the beginning of the calendar year, actually upbraided Shaw in the middle of a game and was soon suspended for a pair of contests. At that point it became clear that Miller was on his way out, and sure enough in February he was dealt to the Wizards.

He struggled to fit in at times with his new team in the ensuing months and sure enough in the first half of Sunday's game, he was a non-factor. But he put on a clinic in the fourth quarter, and the Bull who suffered the most as Miller scored eight of his 10 points during a five-minute stretch which ended with the Wizards in front by a point as the clock ticked below the four-minute mark was D.J. Augustin.

Of course, Augustin is another surprise contributor in the big picture. He has played beautifully for the Bulls since they picked him up off waivers early in the season. Game 1 was not so beautiful, though, as he was beaten repeatedly by Miller for layups and short jumpers.

As far as specific players responsible for specific defensive breakdowns down the stretch, Augustin certainly had plenty of company. If it wasn't Jimmy Butler being beaten on back cuts not once but twice for lay-ups/free throws during that time, it was Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson getting caught between trying to help defend and taking care of their own responsibilities against Gortat and Nene.

Perhaps there is cold comfort for some in the fact that at least the Bulls didn't leave us screaming at the television screen like the Hawks did not once but twice in their first playoff forays against the Blues on Thursday and Saturday. As far as degrees of losing go, taking leads into the final few minutes and then into the final few seconds before finding ways to lose have to rank near the absolute bottom.

Brent Seabrook may have essentially ended the local hockey season with his undisciplined steamroller job on St. Louis's David Backes with just under five minutes remaining in Game 2 of his team's first-round series. The Blues finally capitalized on the resulting five-minute power play with less than 10 seconds left in regulation and before you knew it in overtime another game was lost, giving the Blues a 2-0 series lead.

Now the Hawks will have to win four of five and they will have to do the majority of it without Seabrook, who was suspended for three games for the brutally dangerous hit near the boards that resulted in Backes's brain first smashing into the front of his skull and then smashing into the back. Any medical personnel who say he doesn't have a concussion are fired on the spot. To a certain extent, Seabrook got off easy.

The home teams are back at it on the ice tonight at 7:30 and the hardwood Tuesday at the ridiculous starting time of 8:30. I suppose it can't get any worse, can it?

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Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.

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