Wizards Falter Once Again
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
A playoff matchup with the Detroit Pistons is something the Washington Wizards would have welcomed last spring. Before falling in heartbreaking fashion to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in a thrilling first-round series, the Wizards swept the Pistons, 3-0, in the regular season and were viewed as a serious threat had they made it past Cleveland into the second round.
One year later, the prospect of facing the top-seeded Pistons isn't nearly as inviting, yet that could happen if the reeling Wizards don't win at Indiana in tonight's regular season finale.
A 95-89 home loss to the Orlando Magic at Verizon Center last night squandered a season-high 48-point scoring effort by Antawn Jamison and set the table for an intriguing final night of the regular season.
When the dust settles and games between the Wizards and Pacers, New Jersey Nets and Chicago Bulls, Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks and Magic and Miami Heat are decided, the Wizards could be seeded anywhere from sixth to eighth and open the playoffs on the road this weekend against one of four teams: the Toronto Raptors, the Bulls, Cavaliers or Pistons.
A Washington loss to the Pacers combined with an Orlando win over Miami would drop the Wizards from sixth to eighth, setting up a meeting with Detroit. No matter what the Wizards do tonight, a New Jersey win over Chicago would drop the Wizards to seventh, setting up a first-round series with either Chicago or Cleveland.
Last night's outcome allowed the Magic to even the season series, 2-2, and gave Orlando a tiebreaker edge over the Wizards based on a superior record in the division.
"We still have a game to play," said Jamison, who made 14 of 26 shots, including 5 of 9 three-pointers en route to his highest scoring game since he poured in 51 points twice during the 2000 season when he played with Golden State. "And no matter what happens, we're going to still be out there on that court giving 100 percent."
No matter whom the Wizards face in the playoffs the prospects for success don't look promising. Since Caron Butler went out with a broken bone in his right hand on April 1, the Wizards have lost eight of nine and looked more like a team bound for the lottery than one gearing up for a postseason run.
It's no surprise that the main problem since Butler and Gilbert Arenas went down has been offense. After shooting 33.8 percent in Sunday's humiliating 33-point home loss to Chicago, the Wizards shot 35 percent last night and hurt themselves by making only 25 of 44 free throw attempts.
The starting back court of DeShawn Stevenson and Antonio Daniels, who started and played 33 minutes after missing Sunday's loss to Chicago with a lower back bruise, combined to make 2 of 24 shots and totaled 11 points. The bench was outscored 28-10 and the Wizards managed only 16 points in the fourth quarter.
"It was just a tough night," Stevenson said. "It was one of those nights when the ball was going in and out. I feel bad for Antawn because he was out there trying to get us going and the rest of us didn't really help out."
The game took a huge swing with under a minute left. After Grant Hill missed a baseline jumper with Orlando leading 91-89, Daniels chased down the rebound and pushed the ball up court.
The ball eventually wound up in Jamison's hands and he missed a difficult leaner but Brendan Haywood was in position to grab the rebound. However, the ball bounced through his hands and Orlando gained possession.
After Hedo Turkoglu made a long jumper for the Magic, Darius Songaila and Jamison each missed short shots for the Wizards and Keyon Dooling gave the Magic a 95-89 lead by making two free throws with nine seconds left.
Close losses have been the norm without Arenas and Butler as the Wizards have been competitive but ultimately came up short against New Jersey (twice), Cleveland, Miami and now Orlando.
"Winning takes care of everything in a sense," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "You can't play a game thinking about who you are going to play in the playoffs."