Wizards Expecting a Better Fight

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 30, 2007

PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 29 -- The Philadelphia 76ers have a proud history and can usually be counted on to put up a fight, even when times are tough. But that wasn't the case during a 116-101 loss to the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on Nov. 20.

The Wizards led by 37 points, shot a season-high 57.3 percent and embarrassed the 76ers by scoring with an ease that is uncommon at any level of competitive basketball, let alone the NBA.

For that reason, Wizards forward Caron Butler said he is looking past the 76ers' 4-10 record and expecting to see a highly motivated opponent when the teams meet again Friday night at Philadelphia's Wachovia Center.

For the Wizards, who are 7-8 following a competitive 109-94 loss at San Antonio on Wednesday night, the game will cap a four-game road trip that began with a loss at Memphis on Saturday and included a win at Dallas on Monday.

"I expect them to come out with a lot of energy and really get after it, but at the same time, I expect us to come out with a lot of energy as well," said Butler, who had been on a hot streak offensively until a San Antonio defense keyed by Bruce Bowen limited him to 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting Wednesday night. "We want to finish this trip on a positive note."

Philadelphia is coming off a 106-95 home loss to Utah on Wednesday night and has lost four of five. The atmosphere inside Wachovia Center has been flat since the team traded Allen Iverson midway through last season; the loudest sound heard from a paltry crowd Wednesday night came when the team honored Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins for winning the National League MVP award.

Still, the Wizards understand that they have little margin for error without three-time all-star guard Gilbert Arenas. The team is 4-3 without Arenas and much of the scoring load has been carried by Butler and Antawn Jamison, who combined to score 28 points Wednesday night after combining to average 63 points in the previous four games.

Upcoming opponents will no doubt try to emulate what the Spurs did to the Wizards' two stars. The Spurs aggressively denied Butler and Jamison good post position, fought them as they tried to work their way around screens and sent double teams their way when they put the ball on the floor.

"They had a good game plan," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "They really loaded up on Antawn and Caron every time they caught the ball. It was tough for them to catch, and we knew we had to screen right, execute and have our angles right and the proper spacing. When they did catch, the defense loaded up on the strong side of the floor and we have to pass out of that."

In the first game against Philadelphia, Butler posted a season-low six points while Jamison scored 19, but other Wizards came through with big nights. Andray Blatche scored a career-high 26 points on 12-of-14 shooting, DeShawn Stevenson scored a season-high 19, Antonio Daniels had 15 and Darius Songaila came off the bench to score 12.

The 76ers recently regained a key player when forward Kyle Korver returned after missing four games with a strained abductor, and the team has played better since the blowout loss at Verizon Center, winning at Milwaukee after losing close games to Detroit and Golden State.

"They'll be at home and they'll be pumped up, but we'll be pumped up also," Daniels said following Wednesday's loss at San Antonio. "When you lose a game like this, you can't wait to get back on the floor again. We have been playing well. Guys are playing together and we just have to take that into [Friday night] and end this trip strong."

Wizards Notes: The team will honor slain Redskins safety Sean Taylor with a moment of silence before Saturday night's game against Toronto. The team also will retire Earl Monroe's No. 10 Saturday night. The game opens a season-long five-game homestand.

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