George Solomon: Wizards Have Run of Bad Luck Before Start of NBA Season

Eddie Jordan has coached the Wizards to four straight playoff berths. They will open the season Wednesday night without starters Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood.
Eddie Jordan has coached the Wizards to four straight playoff berths. They will open the season Wednesday night without starters Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
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By George Solomon
Sunday, October 26, 2008

Four straight years of playoff basketball for the Washington Wizards and owner Abe Pollin's determination to keep the team together at a huge cost should have made club president Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Eddie Jordan's sixth training camp together a breeze.

Instead, what has befallen the Wizards since the end of August has been a full-fledged tropical storm -- if not a hurricane.

Consider these misfortunes: Gilbert Arenas's third surgery on his left knee that will keep him sidelined for up to two more months, center Brendan Haywood's wrist surgery that could force him out for the entire season; Antawn Jamison's knee injury that cost him about 10 days. Then add less serious ailments to other players.

All that -- plus spotty shooting and defense so weak that Jordan was quoted this week pleading for "more sincerity" from his defenders. It added up to some ugly preseason performances that left more questions than answers entering Wednesday night's season opener against New Jersey at Verizon Center.

Until Arenas returns, the Wizards will have to rely on Jamison, Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson for the bulk of their scoring. Antonio Daniels is an adequate replacement for Arenas at point guard, and Nick Young and Andray Blatche are explosive but need more consistency. At center, rookie 7-footer JaVale McGee has potential and genes (mom and dad were good players) and Etan Thomas, back from heart surgery, has the grit.

Sharp-shooting Darius Songaila and Oleksiy Pecherov promote Wizards gear in Europe, but can they help the team? Same with Dominic McGuire and local favorite Juan Dixon.

"We'd like to have a full roster, but still have two all-stars [Jamison and Butler], promising young players and solid veterans," Grunfeld said on Friday. "I'm excited about the team and feel we'll be a competitive ballclub."

For 1 1/2 seasons, the Wizards have waited for Arenas's knee to heal. So have the fans, and their patience has been admirable. Maybe everybody's luck is about to change.

Enough Fans to Go Around

For a region in which the two NFL teams -- the Redskins and Ravens -- dominate the sports media, last weekend demonstrated college football is alive and well here. Two division I-A games last Saturday -- Wake Forest-Maryland at always-expanding Byrd Stadium (46,257) and Pitt at Navy (37,970) -- drew 84,227 fans locally; 52,342 saw Virginia knock off North Carolina in Charlottesville. At Howard, 6,853 attended its division I-AA homecoming game against Morgan State, with another 1,975 at Georgetown for its game against Bucknell.

"We don't pay any attention to the pros," said Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk, whose Midshipmen have played to record crowds the past two weeks and set season attendance records in each of the past four years. "Our niche is well defined. We've created an environment -- with the pregame march-on, fly-over, tailgating and a winning team -- that's a big-time event.

"We've put a lot of money into the stadium and our product is as exciting as it gets, combined with the lure of Annapolis, and maybe our fans enjoy the collegiate environment."

Redskins Need to Stay Hungry

The Redskins (5-2) find themselves in a similar position playing today at Detroit (0-6) as they were two weeks ago at home when they were upset by winless 13 1/2 -point underdog St. Louis.

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