By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
With about five minutes remaining in practice on Monday afternoon at Verizon Center, Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan stopped the action and looked at his team.
"We're hunting for fourth," he shouted. "We ain't gonna' be hunting sitting on our [rear ends]. We've got to be aggressive. Come on."
He reminded his team that despite clinching a playoff spot on April 4 with a win over Miami, the Eastern Conference playoff picture is far from clear.
Yesterday, that picture got even cloudier after forwards Caron Butler and Darius Songaila collided in practice and limped off the court. "They sort of banged knees together, that's all," Jordan said.
Butler suffered a bruised right knee. X-rays were negative, and he is listed as day-to-day. Songaila has a mild left ankle sprain and is also day-to-day.
Washington is two games behind fourth-place Cleveland with five games remaining, and if the Wizards overtake the Cavaliers they will hold home-court advantage, after being knocked out by Cleveland the past two seasons.
Philadelphia, meantime, is one game behind Washington and is poised to take the fifth seed if the Wizards stumble.
Jordan smiled when asked about his challenge to the Wizards, saying he was simply trying to motivate his team through the final portion of practice.
"I don't want to get that out there as a mission statement for us," he said. "I just had to say something to make them practice harder the last two minutes. If the cards fall right, we have a chance."
Several Wizards said the close standings make the final five games of the regular season hold even more importance, and that it is an opportunity for the team to seize momentum entering the postseason.
"I think we need to, as my teammates say, 'find our swagger,' find what type of team we're going to be going into the playoffs," veteran forward Antawn Jamison said. "And I think now is the perfect opportunity to do that, knowing that there is a team in front of us that is within reach of us and also there is a team behind us. So we have to do a lot of fending off, but we have a lot of catching up as well."
The stretch run begins tonight against the team with the best record in the NBA, the Boston Celtics (62-15 ). Two of those losses came in back-to-back games against Washington in January, the last time these teams met. Washington is 2-1 against the Celtics this season.
Boston has the top seed in the East secured so it could rest many of its starters, including the "Big Three" of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, as it did last week against Charlotte.
"I don't think it's going to be an advantage [if they rest starters]," Jordan said. "They've got guys coming off the bench, their seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th guys, they're pretty good pros. They can play ball. So we anticipate them playing their guys and I don't think it should be any other way."
Washington could have its own "Big Three" of Gilbert Arenas, Butler and Jamison on the court for only the 10th time this season and will use several combinations to strengthen chemistry for the playoffs, Jordan said.
With Cleveland within the team's sights, Jordan's words resounded, even though he reemphasized yesterday that he was simply trying to "get our guys motivated just in case someone falls."
"We owe Cleveland from our last two years I've been here, so that four seed is very important," forward Andray Blatche said. "We're going to come hard and we're going to fight for it. We want that four seed bad."