By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 9, 2007
There was disappointment but little discouragement in the Washington Wizards' locker room Friday night following a 122-107 home loss to the Phoenix Suns.
The feeling in the room: The Wizards played well -- with the exception of the third quarter, when the Suns took control by scoring 40 points on 77.3 percent shooting -- but lost to a hot team with a great player who is at the top of his game in two-time most valuable player Steve Nash.
"I thought we didn't play too badly," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "I have no problem with the way we approached the game. We tried to devise a game plan against their pick-and-roll. It wasn't working, so we had to make some adjustments, and they capitalized on our adjustments. We made some mistakes so we need to take something from the game and move on."
The Wizards (9-10) will get a chance to do that tonight when they host the New Jersey Nets (9-11).
When the teams met on Nov. 8 in New Jersey, the Wizards built a 20-point second-quarter lead but couldn't maintain the momentum and lost a chance to force overtime when Gilbert Arenas failed to get off a clean shot at the end of regulation.
That 87-85 loss seems much longer than a month ago. The Wizards have stabilized somewhat following the loss of Arenas to a knee injury, going 9-5 since an 0-5 start. The Nets, meanwhile, have slumped while dealing with controversy involving point guard Jason Kidd.
Kidd missed Wednesday night's 100-93 loss the New York Knicks, saying he had a migraine, but reports claimed he was staging a one-game protest over his contract situation and the direction of the franchise.
On Thursday, Kidd insisted that his absence was because of illness and dismissed speculation -- some of which surfaced in reports citing unnamed team personnel -- that he wants out of New Jersey.
Kidd is under contract through next season and will make $19.7 million this season and $21.3 million next season. His name has been mentioned in trade rumors involving the Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks.
No matter Kidd's condition, all is not well in New Jersey. The Nets have lost two straight, seven of their last eight at home and have trailed by double digits at some stage in 15 of their 20 games.
"It's a joke," forward Richard Jefferson told reporters following Friday's 96-89 home loss to Houston. "The fact that we even have nine wins right now is amazing to me the way we've been playing. It seems we've been down double digits so many games. I don't know what to say."
The Wizards will attempt to pounce on the Nets the way they jumped all over the short-handed Cavaliers en route to a comfortable 105-86 win on Wednesday night. Even Friday's loss to the Suns provided some encouraging signs: Seven Wizards scored in double figures and the bench chipped in with a season-high 51 points.
Though the Wizards unquestionably have a smaller margin for error without Arenas, Jordan has gotten his players to buy into their respective roles and that has made for cohesive play on the court and positive vibes in the locker room.
"We don't have team with a bunch of guys in contract years," said center Brendan Haywood, who is averaging a career-high 10.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. "When you've got a team with bunch of guys on contracts or a young team where no one has been paid yet, you can get guys fighting for stats instead of victories. They're fighting for their families' lives and I can't blame them for that but we don't have that on this team. We have a lot of guys who are already established and then we have some young guys who accept their roles and that's been big for us."