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With Jamison Out, Wizards Are Forced To Fill Gaps

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 16, 2005; Page D01

Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan knew that the challenge of leading his team would get more difficult when he was forced to remove Antawn Jamison, who winced and wobbled through just eight minutes Monday against the Los Angeles Lakers. Jamison will miss tonight's game against the Atlanta Hawks because of right knee tendinitis, and Jordan plans to rest his all-star forward against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday and, possibly, the Utah Jazz on Saturday.

"They got to sit me," Jamison said yesterday. "If it was up to me, I'd be out there on one leg. [But] the smartest thing is for me to sit down a couple of games and just listen to my body and make sure I look at the overall picture instead of going out there and making it worse."


Injuries have forced Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan to use 11 different starting lineups so far. (Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

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Kwame Brown will get his sixth start of the season, giving Jordan his 11th different starting lineup in forwards Brown and Jared Jeffries, guards Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes and center Brendan Haywood.

The Wizards (34-27) have maintained a loose grasp on the Eastern Conference's fourth seed despite a series of injuries and illnesses that forced Jordan to go prolonged stretches without Brown and key reserves Etan Thomas and Steve Blake during the first third of the season; without Hughes for 20 games; and now without Jamison for an undetermined amount of time. Moreover, swingman Jarvis Hayes may miss the rest of the season.

"You're going to have injuries to major guys and you have to learn how to handle it emotionally as a coach," Jordan said. "And that's why you have to say to other guys . . . 'You got to stay ready. You never know what's going to happen. We hit some injuries, we may hit some bad spells, some guys may not play well. You're going to be involved in the rotation.' We think the 15th guy is as important as the top guy. That helps."

That outlook has helped the Wizards this season -- with guard Anthony Peeler making clutch three-pointers against the Lakers, Indiana and Cleveland and Laron Profit hitting the game-winning tip against Charlotte. And, as he did when Hughes went down, Jordan will rely on his entire roster to make up for the loss of Jamison, the team's third-leading scorer (19.6 points) and leading rebounder (7.8).

"We all know we have to step up our games because we're missing that 20 points per game out of the lineup. Somehow, we've got to make that up," Haywood said.

Jordan had to sit Jamison before he hurt himself further. Jamison's production had declined before his consecutive games played streak ended at 386 in New York on March 8. He returned to play against the Boston Celtics and the Lakers but struggled. His scoring average dipped below 20 points for the first time this season.

"I think sometimes, I kind of set back myself because I'm so anxious to get back out there. I'm one of those guys who needs to be out there playing. Sitting on the bench and not participating is not who I am," Jamison said. "It's one of those things that's going to be day-to-day. I've just got to continue to work on it to get it stronger, doing whatever is needed to be ready toward the end of the season and the playoffs."

With that, Jordan will adjust. The team will go from a fast-breaking, up-tempo pace to the slower pace of spreading the floor with perimeter shooters and relying on the creativity of Arenas and Hughes and the post play of Haywood and Brown.

"He's always got to change his game plan, depending on how many guys are in, how many guys are out," Jeffries said of Jordan. "It's hard to get practice time in, but he's done a good job of putting out a good game plan every night. We know our roles change a little bit, but it's just a matter of going out there and competing."

The injuries have forced Jordan to scrap several of the sets -- if not principles -- of his Princeton-style offense, given his shortage of shooters. The change has been obvious as the Wizards' scoring average has dropped dramatically in the past 14 games, in which they have gone 6-8 and averaged just 93.6 points. The Wizards averaged 102.4 points in their first 47 games; now it's down to 100.4.

"The good thing is, a lot of those guys were familiar with the system that we put in last year. It's not like it was a midseason trade where there were like two or three major players and you have to re-teach it," Jordan said. "Oh, it's a challenge. Coaching is a challenge. It's different issues every day -- dealing with injuries, personalities, discipline, executing. Trying to get through a bad streak, trying to get through a good streak. So, it's a challenge every day."

The Wizards expect to have Juan Dixon back and fully recovered from his right ankle sprain tonight, giving the team 10 healthy players against Atlanta.

"It's been hard to practice," Haywood said, shaking his head. "Last week, we had to play games of three on three, because we only had nine guys healthy. It's tough. I've never experienced anything like this, but I hope we can get through it."


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