JaVale McGee tries to snap out of slump as Wizards prepare to face Milwaukee Bucks

Washington Wizards' center JaVale McGee discusses his preparations for the NBA Slam Dunk contest for the upcoming All-Star Game festivities in Los Angeles.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 9, 2011; 12:08 AM

JaVale McGee has never fared well against Dwight Howard, but he was especially out of sorts when the two met last Friday at Verizon Center. McGee made some feeble attempts to guard him, but was too often caught flat-footed in cement as Howard spun and rose for alley-oop dunks. McGee tried to stand his ground but often was tossed aside, struggling to understand how he was called for fouls after absorbing the most punishment.

At one point, McGee laid on his stomach, slapped the hardwood and cursed out of frustration over his poor play and inability to make his matchup with Howard anything more than a no-contest. After scoring just two points with one rebound, McGee admitted: "It definitely was the worst that I ever played. I was out of it. It just wasn't a good look."

McGee blamed his lackluster outing against Howard on feeling a bit "light-headed" as he continues to regain his energy level after returning from a bout with the flu that cost him two games and nearly five days of action almost two weeks ago. He rebounded somewhat the next night against the Atlanta Hawks, as he scored 12 points - including an exciting drive and dunk over Josh Smith - but was unable to take advantage of the absence of all-star center Al Horford as he grabbed just five rebounds.

The Washington Wizards will likely need McGee to get back to being that jumping jack bolt of energy he was earlier in the season when they host Andrew Bogut and the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday at Verizon Center. The Wizards lost, 100-87, when the teams met in Milwaukee on Jan. 19, but McGee was able to celebrate his 23rd birthday to some extent with a solid defensive effort against Bogut, who was scoreless in the first half.

"It's a good challenge for JaVale," Coach Flip Saunders said about Bogut, whom Saunders described as a player on the verge of being an all-star. "I think JaVale is getting more confident now, after being sick, with his ability to score in the low block and do some of those things."

Even before his illness, McGee has had difficulty with consistency in recent weeks. Since grabbing 11 rebounds in back-to-back wins over Toronto and Utah last month, McGee has been able to reach double digits in rebounds only once in his past nine games. McGee had his best stretch in late November, when he had at least 10 rebounds in five consecutive games, including three double-doubles.

"Definitely up and down, but I'm just trying to stay in there and keep working hard," said McGee, who is averaging career highs in points (9.0), rebounds (7.5) and blocked shots (2.45). "I was working hard out there, then I went into a little slump, but I'm definitely going to come out of it."

McGee ranks second in the league in blocks behind Bogut (2.8), but his defensive lapses - revealed with missed assignments and switches or goaltending violations - have often left the Wizards vulnerable inside. And at times, Saunders has called on rookies Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin to provide a jolt when opponents get overly physical with the slight McGee or he gets in early foul trouble.

"Some of it is, the teams we were playing," Saunders said, explaining McGee's earlier success. "He had a couple of big games and what happens, as you progress, you become scouted more, and people are definitely putting a body on him more.

"They are trying to be more physical and more aggressive with him. He's shown signs of coming back and I think he's actually been better most recently, offensively, scoring around the basket and having some moves, so I think that's a positive."

McGee will compete in the slam dunk contest next week in Los Angeles and has decided to keep his plans under wraps after mistakenly revealing one of his dunks - in which he ripped a piece of paper out of the net with his teeth and dunked - without realizing it was being recorded. "I don't know. I might tweak it a little bit," McGee said, when asked if he still planned to use it All-Star Weekend. "I got three of my four ideas already, so I'm kind of good."

Saunders wasn't initially thrilled about McGee's participation in the contest, as he mockingly mentioned previous champions who were never able to translate dunking into successful NBA careers. "I always ask, 'Where's Gerald Green?' " Saunders said, mentioning the 2007 champion who now plays in Russia. "There is a time and a place, as long as it doesn't affect your progress and how you play. I don't think that's affected how he's played. More than anything, I think it was being sick and he's using his inhaler a lot more than he has in the past. I don't know if it's the weather, the winter and the change, but it seems he hasn't been able to catch his breath as much as he did earlier in the year."

McGee said that his athletic asthma has caused him problems following the change in temperature. "It's better than it was. It used to be a lot worse. I just got to get through it. Keep taking my medicines and fight through it. I'm trying to be more aggressive on the defensive end and get rebounds. I'd like to see more rebounds and be a more consistent player."

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