Wizards Head Into Second Half of Season With Hard Work, Health on Their Minds

Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott says of the team's play:
Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott says of the team's play: "There are no shortcuts to getting better." (By John Bazemore -- Associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 13, 2009

CHARLOTTE -- The visitors' locker room at Time Warner Cable Arena emptied out quickly after the Wizards entered the all-star break with a 101-89 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday night.

Caron Butler planned to take his family to Disney World. Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood stuck around in North Carolina, where they own offseason homes.

Darius Songaila, who also lives in the area, planned to do some hunting over the four-day break. Some of the team's young players, such as rookie center JaVale McGee, were headed to Phoenix to experience All-Star Weekend as observers rather than participants (no Wizards are involved for the first time in a decade).

Second-year guard Javaris Crittenton was one of the few stragglers, and as he slowly dressed and got ready to head back home to Atlanta, he was asked about his plans.

"Man, I'm going to be watching tape, studying," said Crittenton, whose playing time has steadily increased since arriving in a trade from Memphis in December. "Got to get better. That's it. Got to come back ready to play better basketball. I know I want to keep getting better."

It was a little odd coming from one of the team's youngest and most inexperienced players, but that message could have applied to the entire team. At 11-42, the Wizards are already guaranteed a losing record, and they are on pace for the worst finish in the history of a franchise that started playing in 1961.

The Wizards entered the break with consecutive losses, first at Atlanta on Tuesday and then at Charlotte on Wednesday, and have dropped 10 of their past 12, so interim coach Ed Tapscott couldn't point out many positives as he bid his team farewell late Wednesday night.

The team will get back together Monday evening for practice and resume play Tuesday night at home against Minnesota.

"Have a good break and be ready to go to work when you get back," Tapscott said, repeating his message to the team. "That's all. There are no shortcuts to getting better. Work. It's what gets it done."

Judging by the final stretch heading into the break, the Wizards need a lot of work, particularly at the defensive end. They've made a bad habit of falling behind early and have allowed six straight opponents to score 101 or more points.

Assuming Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld doesn't shake up the roster by making a trade before next Thursday's deadline, Tapscott will have to find a way to squeeze what he can out of the same group, and he actually sounded enthusiastic about the challenge.

"I would love to practice tomorrow," Tapscott said Wednesday night. "After any loss, you want to fix the problem, and we have a lot of problems. Like everybody else, I will use this break to good advantage, but it matters deeply to me when we lose and I want to start right away on fixing the problems that have caused us not to win."

The team could start getting some of its injured players back soon.

Guard DeShawn Stevenson, who has missed 21 games with lower back pain that has bothered him since training camp, plans to return shortly after the all-star break, as does forward-center Andray Blatche, who has missed the past nine games with a strained left knee.

Blatche said he planned to stay in Washington over the break to rehabilitate the knee in hopes of returning as soon as possible.

"I hate missing games," said Blatche, who appeared in all 82 last season. "It's hard sitting out watching while your guys are struggling. I want to get back out there and help."

No timetable has been set for Gilbert Arenas (knee), Brendan Haywood (right wrist) or Etan Thomas (knee), but the team expects to see Arenas and Haywood back once they are medically cleared.

"The most important thing for me is that everybody is healthy," Jamison said. "I'm tired of guys somewhat healthy and they come back too soon and then have a setback. No more setbacks. Let's get guys 100 percent ready to go, and if that happens the last two months or last month, then I'm happy with that. I would love those guys to be back, but the most important thing is that they are healthy and ready for the years to come."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company