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Wizards Settle for a Loss

Lack of Intensity Ensures Playoffs Open in Chicago; Brown Grumbles: Nets 109, Wizards 101

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 20, 2005; Page D01

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., April 19 -- The problem with Tuesday night's game was that the Washington Wizards were just a little too complacent. They already knew they would face the Chicago Bulls on Sunday in the first round and all that mattered was their playoff seeding: fourth or fifth.

The Wizards took the fifth. Following their 109-101 loss to the New Jersey Nets at Continental Airlines Arena, the Wizards guaranteed a trip to Chicago for Games 1 and 2 in the playoffs and made Wednesday night's game against the New York Knicks irrelevant.

Jason Kidd scores a season-high 35 points to help the Nets top the Wizards, 109-101, Tuesday. The Nets stay tied with Cleveland for the final playoff spot. (Bill Kostroun - AP)

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The Wizards settle for a 109-101 loss to New Jersey.
Jason Kidd is the main reason the Nets are in contention.
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The Indiana Pacers' loss to the Orlando Magic on Monday night guaranteed a first-round matchup between the Wizards and Bulls and gave the Washington coaching staff an extra few days of preparation for Chicago.

The Wizards won the regular season series, 2-1, and the Bulls will be playing without center Eddy Curry, who is out for the season with a heart condition. Wizards advance pro scout Wes Unseld Jr. has been putting together a rough scouting report on the Bulls while keeping in mind that Chicago will adjust based on what the Wizards like to do.

"It's not so much strategy yet but we can do some preliminary work as we finish these next two games," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said during yesterday's shoot-around. "By the time the playoffs come, a team is what it is, so there aren't any real surprises. What you want to do is take away their main sets, their main options. If they have 25 sets with three options for each set, you want to take away their top two options for each set. Those are things you can start concentrating on."

Ruffin Out Again

Forward Michael Ruffin missed his second consecutive game with heel soreness and will not play in tonight's regular season finale against the Knicks. Ruffin, who averaged 16 minutes and was the only Wizard to appear be in the first 71 games, is expected to be available for the playoffs. . . . Washington's 13 first-quarter points last night were not a season low. The Wizards managed just 11 points in a Nov. 13 loss to Cleveland, 13 in a Jan. 24 win over Cleveland and 11 in an April 11 loss to Indiana. . . . Forward Jared Jeffries suffered a bruised left knee early in the first half and did not return, but said he should be able to play tonight. . . . Despite last night's loss, the Washington franchise has won at least 45 games for the first time since the 1978-79 season, when the Bullets won 54 games en route to the NBA Finals.

-- Ivan Carter

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Forward Kwame Brown was asked if he was upset that the team blew an opportunity to catch the Bulls -- who clinched the fourth seed with a win against the Knicks -- but he sounded as if starting the playoffs away from MCI Center was the preferred scenario. "I'll play on the road any day of the week," Brown said after scoring 14 points with eight rebounds. Then, he lashed out at the home fans who have booed him in recent games and intimated that they influenced Coach Eddie Jordan's decision to sit him during the last homestand.

"It's been like three games I've been ready to play, but the fans take it upon themselves to boo me when I miss shots," said Brown, who finished 6 of 13 from the field. "I missed [my first] two shots tonight. One was awful; it hit the other side of the rim. If we would've been in D.C., they would've booed; I would've been on the bench. Are you part of the problem or part of the solution? Booing me? Is that going to help out there? That gives the coach the mind-set that [the fans] can control when I play and when I don't."

Brown then laughed and said, "I like playing on the road."

After a miserable showing against the Nets (41-40), who scored the first 10 points of the game and led by 28 points in the third quarter, Brown and the Wizards left themselves no choice. "If we come out and play our basketball, it doesn't matter where you go," point guard Gilbert Arenas said. "Home court only matters in Game 7. Other than that, you have to win one up there anyway. Why not let it be the first two? Then you'll have them on their heels."

Guard Larry Hughes had a team-high 18 points and forward Antawn Jamison and reserve center Etan Thomas had 14 points apiece. Thomas added 11 rebounds. Arenas had his second straight bad game in New Jersey, finishing with just eight points on 2-for-7 shooting. He has combined to score just 15 points on 2-of-14 shooting at Continental Airlines Arena this season.

"I don't know what it is," he said. Arenas was attempting to be a set-up man instead of a scorer, but the problem was, whenever he jumped to pass, his teammates thought Arenas was going to shoot and they turned their heads as he threw away the ball. "I told them, 'I'm trying to get you the ball.' They said they ain't used to it," said Arenas, who committed five of the Wizards' 16 turnovers (the Nets converted them into 23 points).

The Wizards (45-36) had won the first three games against the Nets, but the Nets didn't have Jason Kidd -- or any sense of hope -- in the first two matchups. And when the Wizards defeated the Nets 112-88 on Jan. 4, Kidd was still finding his rhythm from offseason knee surgery and swingman Vince Carter hadn't fully adjusted to the team after being traded from Toronto less than three weeks before. Since that game, the Nets have gone 30-21.

Kidd finished with a game-high 35 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists. "I thought we came out the right way," Jordan said. "We just don't have a guy like Jason Kidd, who is just fighting, fighting and clawing. When you're fighting for your life, there is a little bit more incentive, a little bit more aggressive than somebody who is in our position."

Early in the third quarter, Jamison dived into the front row to track down the ball and flipped it right to Kidd, who nailed a three-pointer to give the Nets a 56-31 lead. "At that time, it didn't matter what we did, it didn't go the right way," Jamison said. "We were just going through the motions from the get-go. I'm kind of disappointed, but that's how it goes. Not to take anything away from those guys. They played like they wanted it."

"We're just really anxious to get the rest of the season over with," Hughes said. "I just want to us heading into the postseason knowing that we are a good team, that we can win on the road. And to have a positive attitude about what we do as a team."

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