Washington Is Still Looking to Break Even

Caron Butler and the Washington Wizards continue to chase the .500 mark. If they beat the Orlando Magic tonight, the Wizards would be at .500 for the first time since Dec. 6.
Caron Butler and the Washington Wizards continue to chase the .500 mark. If they beat the Orlando Magic tonight, the Wizards would be at .500 for the first time since Dec. 6. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 6, 2006

The Washington Wizards have a chance to be at .500 for the first time since Dec. 6, when they were 7-7 after beating Toronto. But the significance of a victory over the Orlando Magic tonight at MCI Center is open to debate.

Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said he doesn't think about the elusive .500 mark until reporters ask him about it.

Center Brendan Haywood offered a similar view.

"So if we win [tonight], then what are we going to do, stop playing?" Haywood said. "You don't get any trophies for .500: 'Here's your .500 trophy.' No, we have to try to win as many games as we can."

However, at least two Wizards, guard Gilbert Arenas and forward Jared Jeffries, said it will be important for the Wizards to get back over the .500 mark before the all-star break arrives after a game at Dallas on Feb. 15.

"I think it's very important because we've grown over this first half of the season and getting above .500 would mean a lot," Jeffries said. "I don't know what it is about it, but in the league, it's one of those things that's really important. It's a rule of thumb that if a team can be above .500, it's a playoff team and that's what we're trying to be."

A win over New Orleans drew the Wizards within two games at 18-20, but a home loss in the next game to Memphis dropped them back. Three victories in the next four games improved the Wizards to 21-22, but a loss at Toronto on Wednesday night set them back again.

"It's going to happen one of these days," Arenas said. "That's how I look at it. Every time we get close, something else happens, but we just have to keep fighting."

Defense Doesn't Rest

The Wizards are 10-5 since a 103-102 win over Boston at MCI Center on Jan. 7. They were 5-10 in the previous 15 games. The biggest difference has been defense. In the last 15 games, four opponents have scored 100 or more points. During the previous 15-game stretch, 11 opponents scored more than 100, and nine opponents scored more than 110. In the last 13 games, the Wizards have held opponents to an average of 92.3 points per game, down from the season average of 99.0.

One Last Game With Orlando

Orlando ended a four-game losing streak with a 100-91 win over the Boston Celtics on Saturday night and trails the Wizards by three games in the Southeast Division. The Magic leads the season series, two games to one. Tonight's game will be the fourth and final meeting this season.

The Wizards won the first meeting, 87-79 at MCI Center on Nov. 5. The Magic won both meetings in Orlando, 91-83 on Nov. 23 and 106-98 on Jan. 18. With guard Jameer Nelson and forward Grant Hill out because of injuries, former Maryland star Steve Francis and second-year forward Dwight Howard will have to carry the scoring load for the Magic.

Francis has been the subject of trade rumors for several weeks and is averaging 17.3 points and 5.8 assists while shooting 44.6 percent from the field. Howard, a strong candidate to make the All-Star Game as a reserve, leads the league in rebounding (12.6 per game) while averaging 15.3 points and 1.5 blocks per game.

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