Wizards Can't Get Past the Hype, Look to Regroup

Caron Butler (3) scored 15 points against Lamar Odom and the Lakers on Saturday night, but he and Gilbert Arenas combined to make just 14 of 47 shots.
Caron Butler (3) scored 15 points against Lamar Odom and the Lakers on Saturday night, but he and Gilbert Arenas combined to make just 14 of 47 shots. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

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By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 5, 2007

The Washington Wizards have experienced their share of problems on the road this season, losing their first eight games away from Verizon Center and dropping contests to struggling opponents such as the New Orleans Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies, but the Wizards are road warriors compared with the Seattle SuperSonics.

The Sonics (17-30) enter tonight's game at Verizon Center having lost four straight overall and an NBA-worst 14 in a row on the road. Seattle's lone appearance in Washington couldn't come at a better time for the Wizards.

The Wizards (27-19) have lost two straight since forward Antawn Jamison suffered a left knee sprain that is expected to keep him out for at least three weeks and they looked out of sorts during Saturday's 118-102 home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Energy wasn't a problem, not on a night when Gilbert Arenas and Kobe Bryant were meeting for the first time since Arenas scorched the Lakers for a career-high 60 points in a win at Los Angeles on Dec. 17.

But several Wizards admitted that the hype surrounding the game contributed to a lack of ball movement and at times, an absence of composure.

"They were very disciplined and they outplayed us tonight," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "We were in attack mode, but we didn't play very smart. They played much better defense, they played together and we didn't play with a purpose to help each as we have in the past."

The Wizards knew they'd miss Jamison's 19.3 points and 7.9 rebounds per game as well as his leadership, but Jamison has never been called a defensive stopper, so it's noteworthy that in his absence the Raptors shot 59.3 percent and racked up 119 points in a victory in Toronto on Wednesday night and the Lakers shot 51.9 percent and scored 118 points Saturday night.

The Raptors and Lakers experienced success by moving the ball crisply around the perimeter while periodically breaking down Washington's defense with dribble penetration. The Wizards contributed to their defensive shortcomings by taking -- and missing -- quick shots.

"We came out aggressive," Arenas said following Saturday's loss, in which he was 9 of 29 from the field and finished with 37 points. "They pulled away in the third period when we were settling for jump shots. They got into the penalty early and then we couldn't push up and pressure like we want because we were putting them on the line. They put us in a bind."

Jordan vowed to get back to the basics starting with yesterday's practice and he expects to see his team run his offense with more precision tonight against Seattle, which has been competitive but unable to pull out close games all season.

The Sonics are 7-14 without injured forward Rashard Lewis, who is out with a strained tendon in his right hand, and haven't been able to find a consistent second scoring option to complement Ray Allen, who is averaging 26.7 points per game.

The Wizards have two scorers in all-stars Arenas and Caron Butler, but those two were a combined 14 of 47 from the field on Saturday. Jordan was encouraged by what he saw from forward Darius Songaila, who played for the first time since undergoing lower back surgery on Nov. 2.

Songaila received a warm applause when he checked in late in the first quarter. It took him two possessions to set a hard screen on Bryant and three to score his first points as a Wizard, on a tip-in following a miss by Arenas. Songaila finished with two points and three rebounds in nearly 11 minutes and said he experienced no discomfort after the game.

"It was exciting, I wasn't as nervous as I thought I'd be," Songaila said. "I picked up right where I left off and it just felt good to be out there again."


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