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Tony Kornheiser

Are Wizards No Longer The Least of the East?

By Tony Kornheiser
Tuesday, November 9, 2004; Page D01

Usually, if you're going to write something positive about the Wizards, you have to do it before the season -- and the losing -- starts, and they begin their inevitable slog to 9-20. They hit 9-20 every year. It's their Groundhog Day. "Hey, everybody, we're 9-20 again! Let's see if we can coax Kwame Brown out of the trainer's room, and if Kwame sees his shadow it's six more years of nuclear winter! Yay!" But here we are in the second week of the season and, amazingly, it's not too late to be optimistic about the Wizards. (This is in a theoretical sense, mind you. By Thursday the roof could fall in.)

This notion could have been helped, of course, had the Wizards won their home opener against Miami on Saturday night. That would have made them 3-0, and would have surely gotten the whole team drug tested. They could have won that game, too, because they had a largely uninterested Shaquille O'Neal on the court. And at Shaq's size, when he's largely uninterested, he's largely uninterested, bada-bing, and you've basically got a llama out there.

_____From The Post_____
Columnists Mike Wise and Michael Wilbon sit down with Shaquille O'Neal to discuss his final, tumultuous season in L.A. and his new start in Miami.
Brendan Haywood believes that with a new contract comes new responsibilites.

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Shaq hardly played at all, just long enough to pick up a few fouls and amble back to the Miami bench. But the Wizards let Dwyane Wade kill them. Wade is a nice player, but he's not Isiah Thomas yet, and Gilbert Arenas later admitted he was "passive" in guarding Wade, who got, hello, 37 points. My feeling is that if the Wizards wanted someone passive, they should have signed Mahatma Gandhi.

To be honest I don't know what I was doing at that game. I guess I got my dates mixed up, because I thought it was one of LaSooz's "Singles Nights," and I'd get lucky and they'd seat me next to some hot babe. Sadly, they sat me next to Wilbon. Which was bad, but it wasn't nearly as bad as sitting behind Gheorghe Muresan, who was there in a seat near the baseline. I mean what do you say when you end up behind all 7 feet 7 of him? "Excuse me, sir, but would you mind removing your entire torso so my wife and I can see the game?" Ah, but I digress.

My point was to say something optimistic about the Wizards. Our Wizards. Not those Wizards who are going to play D.C. United for the MLS Cup, or whatever dishware MLS is giving away this year. You know this MLS season started in March. The soccer season is so long, Freddy Adu turned 20 last week. What in sports lasts longer than an MLS season? Certainly not Linda Cropp's word. Wow. She's clearing baseball out of the city like Human Glade.

Where was I? Oh, the Wizards. Okay, the first 10 to 12 games of the NBA season don't mean squat to a good team. If the Spurs are 5-6, nobody worries. Conversely, if a bad team like the Wizards gets off to a good start, it can make a real difference in their attitude. Look at the Wizards now: They won their first two road games. They won only eight road games all last season. Maybe beating Charlotte is nothing. But in Memphis they beat a Western Conference playoff team. That's something. While losing at home to Miami is disappointing, Miami is probably the third best team in the Eastern Conference.

(By the way, normally you think your quarterback has done a pretty good job when he's thrown for 300 yards. Trent Green does that just about every game. With Mark Brunell, you think he's done a pretty good job when he throws for 100 yards. That's a pretty low bar, isn't it? I mean, low in the sense that my dog Maggie could do it, though admittedly she might struggle with the shotgun. Brunell has been under 100 yards in four of the Redskins' eight games. And it's not like they've made Brunell wear mittens and taped his left arm to his pants. Clinton Portis threw the touchdown pass Sunday. Clinton Portis is the running back, not the throwing back. How do I register my concern that the quarterback is regularly throwing for under 100 yards? This would be fine if we were living in a parallel universe on the planet Goobus, or if this was Princeton in the 1890s. But am I the only one who doesn't think 58 yards passing makes you the spiritual heir to Knute Rockne? Yes, that was a rhetorical question. Now back to the Wizards column.)

If the Wizards were to go 7-3 through their first 10 games, or, say, 10-5 through their first 15, they might actually be able to convince themselves they've turned the corner, and they can be a playoff team in the weak East. Beyond Detroit, Indiana and Miami, nobody scares you. The Nets are being hollowed out by the departure of Kenyon Martin and the displeasure of Jason Kidd. And the New Orleans Hornets have been shifted to the West. That's two new playoff slots open. Maybe Antawn Jamison can get the Wizards one of them.

Jamison is the best player the Wizards have had since Chris Webber -- their first player since Webber who can win a game by himself. Jamison can give you a quiet 30. That's a big deal. Twice in his NBA career, he's gone over 50. Michael Ruffin may not get a total of 50 all season.

Granted, the Wizards haven't had the greatest luck with North Carolina people lately -- and they've had just about everybody but Vince Carter and Dean Smith. Brendan Haywood hasn't set the floor on fire. Rasheed Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse and Jeff McInnis passed through here without success. Not even Michael Jordan could make the Wizards win. But the outgoing Jamison is willing to try.

Jamison believes he can shepherd Arenas, whom he knows well from their days in Golden State. That Golden State connection is admittedly dicey, because they (and Larry Hughes) lost there. But the optimistic spin is that all three are too young to have been infected with a culture of losing yet. We'll see. It's early. Three games down, 79 to go, and all of LaSooz's fabulous Singles Nights stretched out in front of us like Tara Reid's charms. The Wizards couldn't be 9-20 right now if they wanted to.

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