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Washington Wizards hope to be at 'high level' for home date with Los Angeles Lakers

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 26, 2010; D05

The Washington Wizards don't have many wins this season, are in the midst of their fifth losing streak of at least three games and have rarely put forth a consistent effort for 48 minutes. But the Wizards have been relatively dependable in one area this season: They get up for the best teams at home.

Of the team's eight wins at Verizon Center, three have come against teams whose win-loss records are among the top eight in the NBA: Cleveland, Orlando and Portland. They also have lost to Boston and Dallas by a combined three points, with those games decided by Gilbert Arenas missing two free throws and Caron Butler's jumper being blocked by Shawn Marion.

So, with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers paying their only visit to Washington on Tuesday, the Wizards are hoping to keep alive at least one positive aspect of this dreadful campaign.

"If you can't get up for the world champs, who are you going to get up for?" Brendan Haywood said. "We know if we don't come out and match their intensity, it can get ugly quick."

The Lakers paid a visit to President Obama at the White House on Monday, taking a ribbing for losing to his beloved Chicago Bulls in the 1991 NBA Finals. They come to town having lost two of their past three games, and with Kobe Bryant struggling with a broken index finger on his shooting hand. In his past four games, Bryant is averaging 24 points and shooting 35.7 percent (35 for 98) from the floor, but Haywood said that doesn't make the Wizards feel comfortable.

"Kobe is so talented, he finds a way to get it done regardless," Haywood said.

The Wizards haven't won at home against the Lakers since Dec. 26, 2005. When the teams met at Verizon Center in December 2008, Butler missed a potential game-winning three-pointer as time expired as the Lakers won, 106-104.

Coach Flip Saunders said the Wizards have "responded pretty well" against elite teams this season, but he was concerned about fatigue among his players after a lackluster performance in a 92-78 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.

"We've got some guys that are worn down right now. We're hoping in the next 30 hours, we can get our bodies rejuvenated to be able to go out there and perform at a high level," Saunders said. "We're going to have to play with a greater amount of energy than we played with [Sunday] afternoon."

After the loss to the Clippers, when the Wizards missed 15 of 20 jumpers in the first quarter, Haywood suggested that the team implement a "Man Law" that requires players to take the ball to the basket at the beginning of games and halves. When asked if the law would take effect against the Lakers, Haywood laughed and said, "I hope we do. At some point, common sense has to kick in -- ball movement is key and long, contested three-pointers are probably not a good thing."

Saunders was disappointed with his team's effort against the Clippers, but his day didn't get much better when he went home to watch his beloved Minnesota Vikings lose in the NFC championship game to New Orleans. While explaining the loss, Saunders unrolled a typed list of rules for his team.

"Losing the turnover battle," Saunders said, noting the Vikings' five turnovers in the 31-28 overtime loss, "you're going to lose games when you do that. No matter if it's basketball, football or whatever. The ending was not what I was looking for."

Saunders said he is determined to push his core principles, even though the results may not be found immediately in the win-loss column. "We're trying to build a foundation for not only now, but down the road with how you are going to have to play to be considered like a Laker team, a playoff team that contends in the conference," he said.

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