Skid Has Wizards Growing Restless

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 21, 2005

DENVER, Dec. 20 -- If droopy-eyed Washington Wizards fans who have stayed up late to watch the first three games of this five-game road trip are at a loss to explain what is going on with their team, at least they aren't alone.

Following the latest setback, Monday night's 111-101 loss to the Seattle SuperSonics, Caron Butler sounded as if he was preparing for a restless flight to Denver, where the Wizards will try to snap a three-game losing skid against the Nuggets (12-13) on Wednesday night.

"I haven't slept well," said Butler, who scored 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting on Monday but also had his hands full defending Sonics forward Rashard Lewis, who made four three-pointers and finished with 30 points. "I'm pretty sure a lot of my other teammates haven't slept well. We need a win so we can get some rest around here. I'm sure the coaching staff hasn't had any rest either. You see bags under their eyes and everything. We're just trying to find a way to put this thing together so we can win a game. It hurts. It hurts to lose games when you have this kind of talent."

The Wizards (9-14) have lost 13 of their last 17 games and are desperate to recapture the confidence they displayed during their 5-1 start. The good news, according to several of the team's key veterans, is that the locker room is showing no signs of splintering, players have not criticized each other and fingers have not been pointed in the direction of Coach Eddie Jordan and his staff.

Indeed, one of the interesting things about the Wizards is that they carry on like a team that is steamrolling its way through competition en route to a championship. The pregame locker room is typically jovial, with players ribbing one another about their clothes, their favorite NFL team and the fortunes of their former college teams.

A veteran such as Antawn Jamison, who said he is suffering through one of the worst shooting slumps of his career, has been quick to shoulder responsibility for his performance; and Gilbert Arenas, who posted another 30-point game Monday night, has refused to adopt the woe-is-me mantra that is so often used by productive players on struggling teams.

"I've never been around a team that gets along as well as we do off the court, but you don't see that carry over into games," Arenas said. "Usually when you don't have that good chemistry on the court, you don't have it off the court too. But not here. We really get along, but it's like when we're out there, we don't know each other."

With 23 games in the books, it's clear that the Wizards lack the on-court cohesion that led to a 14-9 mark at this point last season. Arenas has not been able to establish the kind of chemistry with Butler, Antonio Daniels or Chucky Atkins that he had with Larry Hughes, and Coach Eddie Jordan has not come close to setting a rotation he can trust on a nightly basis.

Jamison, who was so dominant just two weeks ago, is mired in a 30-for-104 shooting slump and has been held to 12 points or less in five consecutive games. Without his scoring, the Wizards are a defensively challenged team that gets the bulk of its scoring from Arenas and Butler. In losing six of the last seven games, that formula clearly hasn't been good enough.

"The difference between last year and this year is that Larry could create his own shot, Juan Dixon would come in and he was going to play 12 minutes and take 12 shots, Steve [Blake] knew his role, everyone knew their role," Arenas said. "Everyone knew where they were going, what they were doing. Everybody clicked. This year is like a rebuilding stage. You have new players coming in trying to fit in with old players. We're still adapting. No matter how we started off and how we look now, the reality is that we're still adapting to each other."

Players say they believe the team has the right tools to get things corrected. Arenas and Jamison scoffed at the notion of acquiring someone like Indiana forward Ron Artest, and Jordan appears to have the continued support of his players.

"I'm happy with what we have," Jamison said. "I don't think they should make any changes. I think they should keep this together and let it ride. We definitely like the coach, we shouldn't make any changes there. We just have to find a way because this is a great group of guys on and off the court. It's just that on the court, we're not getting it done and it starts with me going on down the line."

Butler believes that the Wizards have what it takes to snap out of their funk.

"What's really frustrating is that this team is too talented to be in this situation," Butler said. "I have been on bad teams and we played okay. But this team is good. We're well-coached and there is no reason for us to be losing games like this. In L.A. In Portland. [Monday] night. Honestly, those are three games we should have had and now we're going to Denver and then Phoenix, two of the better teams in the league. We have to get some results. We need a win in a bad way."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company