Wizards Turn Into Fight Club

It's hard for the Wizards to watch the final moments of a loss to Portland at Verizon Center.
It's hard for the Wizards to watch the final moments of a loss to Portland at Verizon Center. "We're focusing on the wrong things right now," Gilbert Arenas said. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
By Mike Wise
Monday, February 12, 2007

In the estimable words of Micheal Ray Richardson, who was once asked to sum up the state of a very bad New York Knicks team, "The ship be sinkin'."

The Wizards aren't going down anytime soon, but they're taking on water fast.

This patchwork lineup since Antawn Jamison went down to a knee injury two weeks ago is flat-out not working.

The youngsters and veterans who were supposed to step up and show they could play quality, big-time minutes in this league -- Andray Blatche and Jarvis Hayes -- aren't yet up to the task.

Gilbert Arenas has played like one of the top five players in the world this season, but his silly-man persona doesn't translate to leadership among his teammates.

He knows that as well as anyone, and was reminded again yesterday when Eddie Jordan verbally traded shots with his star player after the most unsightly game of the year at Verizon Center:

Portland 94, Team Tumult 73.

What a surreal, 10-day meltdown, no? On Feb. 1, Jordan was named coach of the Eastern Conference all-star team, Caron Butler was selected to join Arenas, voted in as a starter, in Las Vegas, and the Wiz kids had emerged as the sweetest story at the halfway point of the NBA season.

A week and a half later, they've lost four of five games and someone has stolen their mojo at home, where the Wizards have looked downright atrocious in three of their last four games. It's one thing for teams led by Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan to embarrass you on your home floor, but Zach Randolph?

The coach and the star player are now officially feuding over philosophy. ("We're focusing on the wrong things right now," Arenas said, meaning defense. "Focus on what got us here.") The role-playing centers traded haymakers in practice on Friday (Brendan Ali-Etan Frazier II was put on the Arenas-Jordan undercard yesterday). And, almost unnoticed, Jordan also took a shot at his roster, which we all know was put together by Ernie Grunfeld.

"First of all, we didn't have the leadership out there that we needed with Antawn out," he said in his scorched-earth, postgame news conference. "And no one else has stepped up into a leadership role. And frankly, we didn't have enough talent out there on the floor."

Arenas started it, making the bizarre assertion that his coach focused too much on defense and that, in turn, led to the worst offensive performance of the season for the NBA's second-highest scoring team.

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