After latest loss, Wizards attempt to regroup yet again

Andrew Blatche (7), JaVale McGee and the Wizards had few highlights during Saturday's 92-76 loss to Charlotte at home.
Andrew Blatche (7), JaVale McGee and the Wizards had few highlights during Saturday's 92-76 loss to Charlotte at home. (Richard A. Lipski/the Washington Post)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 30, 2009

The Washington Wizards ended the month of November with an unsightly 92-76 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats that stunted their progress after their previous two wins and put them back on their continual search for an identity, consistency and chemistry.

Coach Flip Saunders and his players seem to agree on what kind of team they want to be -- one that thrives on solid defense and crisp offensive execution -- but what they are is far short of that.

Gilbert Arenas, the centerpiece of the team, is finding that returning to all-star form after an almost two-year hiatus is more difficult than he, or his coaches, imagined. The Wizards' trio of former all-stars -- Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler -- has shared the court for only five games, winning two of them. Saunders has been unable to find reliable production from other players, making it hard for him to settle on a regular rotation.

The Wizards (5-10) were aware of the challenges that came with a rough early schedule and Jamison starting the season sidelined with a shoulder injury, but players are growing increasingly more frustrated with each loss.

"I didn't think November was going to be tough," said Arenas, adding that he thought the Wizards would have at least 11 wins by this point. "But that's not the case. We can look at our schedule and talk about wins and losses, but we have to pick it up. And in the past, November's never really been a good month for us. So, hopefully as in the past, December, January will be our month."

Arenas's optimism that the team's fortunes will improve contrasts with his performance, which has been regressing of late as he is unable to find a comfortable role within the offense. He remains unsure when, or whether, he can be the player he was before his knee injuries. Arenas has scored just 15 total points in his past two games and was a fourth-quarter spectator when the Wizards pulled out a rousing victory in Miami on Friday.

"I've been watching game tape of when I played before. It's just taking more time than I thought," Arenas said, before adding: "So I'm just trying to find my way that I'm comfortable again and getting the trust of the team. Right now, I don't know if these guys trust me to take 10 straight shots. I don't know if I trust myself to take 10 straight shots."

Saunders said he expected Arenas to have some difficulties this season. He said he thinks the heavy playing time Arenas had early in the season because of the Wizards' backcourt injuries has "caught up with him a little bit."

Since Jamison made his season debut against Cleveland on Nov. 18, the Wizards have yet to have another game in which Arenas, Jamison and Butler have each been able to put together good performances on the same night, in a win. Butler is still working himself back after dealing with a sore right ankle.

"We need to get our main guys to play together and get into a rhythm. It's been one of those things that either Antawn was hurt so much and we get going, and then Caron sits out," Saunders said. "We just need those guys to play together, because where we want to get, all three are going to have to play together and play well together."

When the Wizards were in San Antonio less than two weeks ago, Saunders lamented his team's inability to establish its identity. "Whether it's your defense, or your ability to not turn the ball over, whatever that might be," he said. "You hope your identity is your ability to not beat yourself."

The Wizards seemed to have made some progress in consecutive wins against Philadelphia and Miami, but after the setback against Charlotte Saturday, Jamison pondered how much drive the team has to succeed.

"The question at hand is, are we going to sacrifice? Are we going to be focused enough to do this night in and night out; not just big games or when our back is really against the wall?" Jamison said. "How do we handle success, when we win two or three in a row? Do we do the necessary hard work that we need to do to take it to five or six? Or are we going to be satisfied with the up-and-down play? I don't think we're going to be satisfied at all."

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