In Weak Stretch, Wizards Aren't Helping Themselves

Young players, including Andray Blatche, in so many key roles makes the Wizards inconsistent, interim coach Ed Taspcott says.
Young players, including Andray Blatche, in so many key roles makes the Wizards inconsistent, interim coach Ed Taspcott says. (By Nick Wass -- Associated Press)
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By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 12, 2009

Coming off of an inspiring win over the Cleveland Cavaliers and crab-dribbling superstar LeBron James last Sunday, the Washington Wizards were presented with a major opportunity: eight consecutive games against teams with losing records.

But entering tonight's game against Milwaukee (18-21), the Wizards have dropped three straight to losing teams, including Saturday's 92-89 home loss to the Charlotte Bobcats. It's a particularly bad time for a losing streak, especially because the Wizards have been competitive against top-flight teams such as Cleveland, Orlando, Boston, New Orleans and Houston.

The playoffs were something of a pipe dream even before the recent bad streak, but now the Wizards (7-29) appear to be headed for the draft lottery for the first time since 2004.

They are the only team in the Eastern Conference with fewer than 13 wins and only one team, Oklahoma City (6-32), has fewer victories.

After coming out flat and falling behind early in losses to Toronto and at Chicago, the Wizards started better on Saturday against the Bobcats and had a five-point lead with just over five minutes remaining before falling apart with the usual assortment of missed shots, turnovers and defensive breakdowns.

The Wizards are 4-17 in games decided by 10 points or fewer and have lost 14 games in which they either held a lead or were tied during the fourth quarter.

"We lost a game we felt we should've won and that's tough," forward Caron Butler said.

Even worse, a jam-packed schedule is starting to take a toll on the team's veterans. Forward Antawn Jamison did not practice yesterday because of a right knee strain and will be re-evaluated at today's shoot-around.

Jamison and Butler -- all-stars last season -- have been carrying heavy minutes as well as the bulk of the playmaking and scoring load in the absence of Gilbert Arenas. Jamison has yet to miss a game; Butler missed three with an ankle injury.

Jamison is averaging a team-high 38.4 minutes; Butler (38.2) isn't far behind.

"We've played a ton of games and I don't want to wear them out," interim coach Ed Tapscott said. "They're such willing warriors for me. You look at where we are and we have a lot of games and a lot of travel so I've tried to give the young guys a little more run."

Second-year guard Nick Young has posted consecutive strong games and rookie center JaVale McGee came off the bench Saturday night to score nine points and grab four rebounds in 19 minutes. McGee, who started 13 games earlier in the season, had not gotten off the bench in four previous games.

Tapscott continues to attempt to strike a balance between relying on the team's veterans and mixing in his young players, a group that has expanded to include second-year guard Javaris Crittenton, whose playing time has increased recently.

Second-year forward Dominic McGuire and fourth-year center Andray Blatche are starters; second-year forward Oleksiy Pecherov played well in a brief stretch at Chicago Friday night.

But along with youth comes mistakes and uneven performance.

"One thing I have to continue to remind myself is that Nick is a second-year player, Dom is a second-year player, Andray is really a third-year player when you consider how much time he lost as a rookie with the injury, Pech is a second-year player, JaVale is a first-year player and Javaris is a second-year player without a whole lot of experience," Tapscott said. "That's half my roster. All of those guys are playing key positions and getting key minutes at one time or another, so what you're seeing here is growing pains."

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