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With Wizards' Guards Ailing, Crittenton Embraces Chance to Play

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 1, 2009

When Washington Wizards point guard Javaris Crittenton entered the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers, he had a Hall of Fame coach who rarely played rookies and found himself third on the depth chart behind Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar, which meant he basically had a front-row seat to the Kobe Bryant show.

Crittenton was traded to Memphis in February of last season, joining a Grizzlies team that was developing two young point guards in Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry. Then, he found himself fifth on the depth chart after the Grizzlies added two more guards in a draft day deal that yielded O.J. Mayo and Marko Jaric.

So, when Crittenton was dealt to Washington last December, he landed with his third team in 18 months, but he actually got his first chance to play. "I knew I was going to make the best of it," Crittenton said. "My mentality was to come here and show that I'm a committed player and I work hard."

He had no idea that over the next few months, DeShawn Stevenson would go down with back surgery, Mike James would break his right pinkie finger and Juan Dixon would injure his right Achilles', leaving him as the Wizards' only remaining ballhandler on nights the team doesn't have the rehabbing Gilbert Arenas.

Arenas said yesterday that he may attempt to play against Memphis tonight, rather than against Cleveland tomorrow, which would take some pressure off of Crittenton. Crittenton is fine either way.

"It's not a whole lot of pressure for me. This is an opportunity I've been waiting for," said Crittenton, who scored a season-high 19 points in a career-high 43 minutes on Sunday in Indiana. "I want to play this many minutes. I want to stay out there on the floor. Obviously, I hate that those guys are hurt. I'm not happy that those guys are hurt. I'm embracing the opportunity."

Crittenton will get his fifth start of the season -- and his career -- against his former team in Memphis. Crittenton views the game as a business trip, and not a homecoming, since he hardly got to know the place, and Grizzlies fans hardly got to know him. "It's not like I'm trying to go get 50 or anything," Crittenton said. "It's just another game. It's nothing personal."

If anything, Crittenton is thankful that the Grizzlies set him free. In the past two months, Crittenton has played 648 minutes, which is close to his total playing time in his first 1½ seasons with the Lakers and Grizzlies (723 minutes in 57 games).

"It was tough, man," Crittenton said. "You got to understand that this is a business, but when you've got a love for the game, it's a burning fire when you're not in there. It's a humbling experience, but sometimes, it's better to be humbled when you first step your foot in the door, so that when success comes, you've already been humbled."

Crittenton got through some of his early struggles by leaning on the advice of his former high school teammate, Orlando's Dwight Howard, and his former coach, Paul Hewitt of Georgia Tech. Hewitt recalled having a conversation with Crittenton during his rookie season and could hear the pain in his voice. But when he spoke with Crittenton recently, he heard the same, confident player who declared for the NBA draft after one season.

"He's always going to be supremely confident, but it's confidence that's earned," Hewitt said in a telephone interview. "It's not cockiness. When you put the kind of work he's put in, and works as hard as he works, you're going to be confident."

Crittenton is averaging 4.9 points and 2.5 assists in 50 games with the Wizards. His scoring has improved slightly each month, going from 4.1 points in January to 5.8 points in February to 6.9 in March. He set his season high twice in his past four games, scoring 18 points in a March 23 loss to Chicago before getting 19 against Indiana.

Interim coach Ed Tapscott said he believes that Crittenton has "made substantial progress" since joining the team. Tapscott loves Crittenton's size (he's listed at 6 feet 5) and speed and stressed the importance of Crittenton playing at various speeds rather than just one.

"You can't always go to the after-burners," Tapscott said. "He's still got to get experience, but he has that attitude of, 'I want to get better.' "

Tapscott and assistant Randy Ayers have given Crittenton a hard time this season, criticizing his every mistake, but Crittenton said he understands they want him to get better and is happy to be with an organization that is concerned with his development. He said he is starting to feel comfortable but doesn't want to get too comfortable in Washington, where one of the most difficult seasons in franchise history has opened a door for him.

"I feel more for the guys that have been here and are used to winning," Crittenton said. "I definitely want to win, but this is a win just to get an opportunity."

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