Wizards Out to Avoid Worst Record in Franchise History

Interim coach Ed Tapscott will try to rally the Wizards to five more wins to avoid breaking the 1961-62 team's mark for worst in franchise history.
Interim coach Ed Tapscott will try to rally the Wizards to five more wins to avoid breaking the 1961-62 team's mark for worst in franchise history. (By Darren Hauck -- Associated Press)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 9, 2009

DALLAS, Feb. 8 -- It's a modest goal for sure, but it is a goal, and for a team that has little to play for with 19 games remaining in an awful season, it is something to focus on.

The Wizards (14-49), losers of five straight heading into Monday's contest at Minnesota, need five more wins to avoid matching the 1961-62 Chicago Packers for the fewest wins in franchise history.

Those 18-win Packers were so forgettable, the team's name was changed to the Zephyrs the following year, meaning that generations of Chicago sports fans have grown up believing the Packers are a football team from Green Bay that you hate, not a basketball team for whom the sublime Walt Bellamy put up 31.6 points a game.

Since Abe Pollin took over as principal owner prior to the 1968-69 season, the team with the fewest wins was the 2000-01 squad, which finished a dreadful 19-63.

"We're not trying to do that, no way," said forward Caron Butler, who finished with 20 points and nine rebounds in Saturday's 119-103 loss at Dallas. "I mean, we're not making the playoffs like the last few years and we don't have a lot of goals but that is one of them for sure. We don't want to break that record. Nobody wants to be embarrassed like that. Guys still have pride in here and even though things have been rough all season, we still have to fight. That gives us something to fight for."

Trouble is, the Wizards haven't shown much fight since putting together one of the best efforts of the season in front of President Obama on Feb. 27. They were sloppy and lacked energy in losses to Milwaukee, Atlanta and Oklahoma City and were simply overmatched in blowout losses at San Antonio and Dallas.

Like anything bad for the soul, losing can become a habit. For this group of Wizards, which has played most of the season without three potential opening day starters (Gilbert Arenas, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson), it has become an almost accepted part of daily life.

Antawn Jamison, as proud an athlete as there is, calls it "Groundhog Day."

Wake up. Go to the arena. Lose. Go home. Repeat.

The entire thing has put interim coach Ed Tapscott in the unenviable position of figuring out how to approach his beaten down team on a daily basis.

"It's an interesting path you have to walk," Tapscott said. "You know you're struggling but you can't let it beat you up by being negative, you have to try to stay somewhat upbeat. At the same time, you can't be disingenuous. You have to tell the truth. You have tell them when they're playing well and when they're not playing well and sometimes, you have to tell 'em when they stink. But you have to do it a way that doesn't depress everyone. So, you walk a fine line and sometimes, you go all over that line."

Shortly after taking over for Eddie Jordan after the team's 1-10 start, Tapscott broke the remainder of the season into seven-game segments and set goals for winning each segment.

Since that heady goal long ago went out the window, Tapscott has increasingly scaled back his goals to the point that victory is only nominally involved.

"Regardless of what the record is, let's see if we can be better today than what we were the day before," Tapscott said. "You just keep establishing those little goals and it's about what we can accomplish. Can our pick-and-roll defense get better? Can we outrebound a team? Can we increase the number of assists we have each night? Those are the kinds of things we talk about because we're playing so many young guys and for them, the biggest issue is consistency and whether they can do the same things night in, night out."

Monday's game against the lottery-bound Timberwolves (18-44) presents at least a decent chance of picking up a rare win and moving one step closer to avoiding franchise infamy.

The Wizards beat the Timberwolves on Feb. 17 at Verizon Center and should match up well against a squad that has lost nine in a row and is playing without forward Al Jefferson. Still, nothing is ever easy for these Wizards, unless the president shows up of course, and Minnesota very nearly won at Portland on Saturday night. Guard Randy Foye missed a potential game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer.

The ghosts of the old Chicago Packers are eagerly watching.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company