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Wizards Take a Step Back

Loss to Indiana Drops Team to 6th Spot in Playoff Standings: Pacers 93, Wizards 83

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 9, 2005; Page D01

INDIANAPOLIS, April 8 -- At a time when they should be revving up, the Washington Wizards are going in reverse. Just a week ago, players were confidently talking about locking up the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and wrapping up home-court advantage in the first round. Those days are gone.

The Wizards lost their fourth consecutive game, 93-83, to the Indiana Pacers Friday night at Conseco Fieldhouse and find themselves looking up to two teams on whom they once held comfortable leads. The Chicago Bulls won Friday, securing their hold on the fourth spot, and although the Wizards (41-34) share the same record as fifth-place Indiana, the Pacers hold the tiebreaker because they have a better conference record.

Gilbert Arenas the Wizards slide to their fourth-straight loss, 93-83, in Indiana on Friday. The Pacers pull into a tie with Wizards for the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference. (AP)

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INDIANAPOLIS, April 8 -- After appearing to turn a corner in March, forward Jared Jeffries has seen his numbers take a decline without center Brendan Haywood in the lineup. Jeffries and Haywood have started 49 games together this season and nicknamed themselves the "Little Two" because they were responsible for the unrecognized contributions to the Wizards' success. But Jeffries was having a difficult adjustment to being the Little One before scoring 12 points agains the Pacers Friday night.

In the first nine games in March, Jeffries averaged 9.7 points and 7.8 rebounds, scoring at least 10 points four times. The Wizards are 12-4 when Jeffries scores in double figures. But entering Friday night's game against the Pacers, Jeffries averaged just 6.2 points and 2.6 rebounds in the first seven games since Haywood broke his left thumb on March 25. "We work well together," said Jeffries, who has scribbled "Lil' 2" on his shoes the past eight games. "You get used to playing with somebody and when somebody is not there, you've got to make an adjustment."

Haywood is expected to return for the final week of the regular season or the playoffs. . . .

Coach Eddie Jordan said the team plans to keep Antawn Jamison (right knee tendinitis) in the starting lineup throughout the team's upcoming five-game homestand. "We're going to prolong his effectiveness through the regular season and have him at the highest level we can. . . . when we make the playoffs," Jordan said. He said the team will have to determine whether Jamison will play the final two back-to-back games against New Jersey and New York. He added that he hasn't had many worries about Jamison's right knee. "He can go through practice. I think he may have some trouble going through a film session, though," Jordan joked. . . .

Pacers Coach Rick Carlisle didn't want to take the credit for how the team has remained in the playoff race despite a season-long suspension for Ron Artest (fighting) and injuries to Jermaine O'Neal (right shoulder) and Jamaal Tinsley (left foot). "I think it's a group of guys that have been through some tough things and they've persevered."

-- Michael Lee

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"We feel like we can win, but the things we are doing just aren't right. It's breakdowns on both ends," guard Larry Hughes said after scoring a team-high 24 points. "Teams are taking advantage of that now. They're playing to move up. Knowing that we couldn't move up, we're kind of playing to stay the same instead of really going out. We still had to go out and win and we haven't done that."

Forward Antawn Jamison rested his right knee for the second consecutive game but he will back in the starting lineup Saturday night when the Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers. A loss would put the Wizards just two games ahead of the seventh-place 76ers.

"We've got five games at home. We've got to fight like we want it," said point guard Gilbert Arenas (14 points). "It's the most important five games of the season. . . . These five games are going to determine our playoff seeding."

Reggie Miller scored a team-high 18 points to lead the Pacers, who won their sixth consecutive game. While the Pacers are playing with a sense of urgency, the Wizards are placing themselves in a dangerous position with each loss. They have just seven games left.

"I think every game is a must-win," Hughes said. "Especially when you have a week and a half left in the season, just to go into the postseason knowing we can win. We know we don't have all our guys, but we're playing teams that are fighting for playoff spots and we can't let teams come in and beat us."

For the Wizards to win Friday, they needed Arenas and Hughes to improve on their combined 11-for-27, 34-point performance during a 79-76 loss on Sunday. While Hughes again struggled with his sore left elbow, going 8 of 22, the Pacers continue to fluster Arenas, who finished 5 of 17, forcing several difficult shots under an unrelenting, trapping defense.

"We lost our composure because it was a physical game and we have to understand that to get ready for the playoffs and to play in the playoffs, we can't lose our composure because it was a physical game," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said.

Jordan picked up a technical foul with 6 minutes 32 seconds left in third quarter after he thought Pacers forward Austin Croshere had shoved guard Juan Dixon out of bounds, keeping Dixon from catching an outlet pass from Arenas. Jordan stormed onto the court to protest and Miller hit the free throw, setting off a 10-2 run over the next four minutes. Arenas hit a layup to bring the Wizards within 58-54, but Brown and Etan Thomas combined to miss four free throws on the next two possessions. After an Eddie Gill three-pointer, Miller hit a running jump shot off the glass to give the Pacers an 11-point lead.

Forward Kwame Brown, who matched his season high with 16 points, had a jump hook and a two-handed dunk wrapped around a Thomas free throw to bring the Wizards within 65-59 with 33 seconds left in the third. But the Wizards hurt themselves in the fourth quarter, as the Pacers went 7 of 12, connecting on every shot that mattered.

After having some sluggish starts in their previous three losses to the Pacers, Celtics and Pistons, Jordan went with his 15th lineup, putting Michael Ruffin at center in place of Thomas and Dixon in place of Brown, giving the Wizards a three-guard set with Arenas and Hughes. Ruffin, making his seventh start of the season, had two points with nine rebounds, seven coming off the offensive glass. Jeffries finished with 12 points for the Wizards.

"God works in mysterious ways," Arenas said. "He had us at four all year, but now he's knocked us back a little bit, maybe trying to see what we're made of."

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