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Wizards Have Long Road From 2-12 to NBA Playoffs

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By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 1, 2008

Even after dropping to 2-12 with a 102-98 home loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, the few Washington Wizards who stuck around to discuss the latest setback stressed that it's still early in a long season.

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That may be true -- the Wizards have 68 games remaining and three-time all-star guard Gilbert Arenas expects to return in the next two months -- but it's also true that Washington is in a very deep hole.

Making the playoffs for the fifth straight season remains the organization's goal. It was why president Ernie Grunfeld, with the approval of owner Abe Pollin, made the decision to fire Eddie Jordan after a 1-10 start and replace him with Ed Tapscott.

Grunfeld believes that even without Arenas and starting center Brendan Haywood, the Wizards have enough talent to be a .500 team.

"We're better than we have performed," Grunfeld said when asked about the decision to fire Jordan, the third-winningest coach in franchise history.

Time will tell whether Grunfeld has misplaced faith in a roster that includes only two players performing at a high level: forwards Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison.

The Wizards are giving up 103.2 points per game (26th in the league), scoring 96.6 points per game (21st) and have by far the least productive back court in the league. The team is starting a rookie at center (JaVale McGee), has a shooting guard (DeShawn Stevenson) who is making 30.3 percent of his shots and a crew of young players who are predictably inconsistent.

Other math is working against the Wizards as well.

Last season, the Hawks earned the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference with 37 wins. It likely will take more, perhaps 40 or 41 wins, to get the eighth seed in a beefed-up conference this season.

The Wizards entered yesterday's games only five games behind eighth-place New York (8-8) but will have to overtake Miami, Philadelphia, Indiana, Milwaukee and Charlotte just to get a crack at the final seed.

It doesn't help that the Wizards have already lost twice to Atlanta, Miami, Orlando and New York and once each to New Jersey, Milwaukee and Detroit. The team's only two victories have come against Western Conference opponents (Utah and Golden State) and the Wizards are the only team in the league without a road win (0-6).

To finish 41-41, a record that would seemingly give the Wizards a solid shot at making the postseason, the Wizards will have to go 39-29 the rest of the way.

"We're in a hole," Jamison said. "It's not too big yet but it's getting there. We're losing games that really may come back to haunt us later in the year when teams are scrapping and fighting for playoff position. Bottom line, we have to stick together, stay positive and find a way to win some games."

Defense Must Stretch

After watching the Hawks hit 11 of 25 three-point attempts Saturday night, Tapscott acknowledged the obvious: The Wizards' three-point defense is a problem.

"It's something we have to work on and we will work on it," Tapscott said.

Atlanta, New York and Houston have made 10 or more threes in wins over the Wizards this season and opponents are shooting 36.2 percent. That ranked 12th in the NBA entering yesterday's games; that's not all that bad, but the problem has been giving up wide-open threes at some of the most inopportune times.

On Saturday night, for instance, the Wizards trailed 94-91 with just over three minutes to play. The Hawks used good ball movement to catch the Wizards in a late defensive rotation. Forward Al Horford found Maurice Evans open in the corner and Evans made the three-pointer, one of four he hit in the game.

"We've got to run guys off of the three-point line and make them take contested shots off of the dribble," Tapscott said. "That is the most difficult shot to make in the NBA."


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