Wednesday, March 7 , 2 p.m. ET

The Washington Wizards

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Ivan Carter and Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 7, 2007; 2:00 PM

Washington Post staff writers Michael Lee and Ivan Carter were online Wednesday, March 7, at 2 p.m. ET to field your questions and comments about the Wizards and all the latest NBA news.

From The Post:

Wizards Coverage

The transcript follows.

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Michael Lee: Crazy week in the NBA. Artest is in trouble again. Pippen is still talking a comeback. George Karl calls out Melo. Kobe might get suspended again. Wizards have a game gift-wrapped by the officials. But let me stop talking, let's go. . .

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San Diego: Ivan and Michael: In my opinion, the NBA should seriously consider an "open" playoff format, a la March Madness. The top team (Dallas) plays the No. 16, 2 plays 15, etc. With the balance of power so slanted to the West, it's patently unfair that every series out West will be highly competitive (i.e. Phoenix with the second-best record has to face off against AI and 'Melo right out of the gate). The champion might come out of the (L)East if only because the Western representative enters the final series battered and bruised. Stop this insanity now and reward the best team with a cupcake first round matchup!

Michael Lee: Have you looked at the bottom teams in the West? Trust me, the Mavs and Suns will get a cupcake first-round opponent. At least, they will make it look like a cupcake.

This is a nice idea, but it'll never happen. We always cry about how much better the East is than the West, but the fact remains that Detroit and Miami have won two out of the last three NBA Finals -- and it's not because the Western Conference teams had it harder and were worn out. People tried to call the West Finals the de facto NBA Finals the past three years, but Detroit and Miami were the better teams and the Spurs were pushed to seven games in 2005. The Lakers didn't get tired, the Pistons obliterated them. The Mavericks weren't worn out, Dwyane Wade was unstoppable (like the officials whistles)! But really do you think Miami had an easy road to the finals last year? The Bulls nearly beat them, the Nets looked like they could and Detroit had the best record in the league last season. I say let them play until the West wins 10 in a row.

These things go in cycles. When the Lakers and Celtics were winning championships in the 1980s, the East was serious. Nobody was complaining then.

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Van Ness, D.C.: Guys,

Is it encouraging that the Wizards have been able to win some close games recently or discouraging that these games have even been close as they were against pretty weak teams?

Thanks!

Ivan Carter: Considering that Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison were just getting back for the Atlanta and Golden State games, I'd go with the "a win's a win" philosophy and take it. Now, seeing this team go out and play a complete game against a solid opponent last night was far more encouraging. I saw signs that they are getting back to where they were in December and January: the ball moved crisply, Antawn and Antonio Daniels played very well, Gilbert made his threes and only took five of them (as opposed to 13-15) and Caron was a beast on the glass (12 boards). That was a nice, quality win.

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Tampa, Fla.: I recently saw where Julius Hodge was cut by the Bucks. After recovering from gun shot wounds, has he lost some game. They cut him to bring a guy over from the D- League. I can understand because the Bucs have a logjam at Guard and Small Forward but I watched Hodge be very effective in the Princeton offense when he was at NC State. Would the Wizards give him a look, even if not until the offseason?

Ivan Carter: I saw Hodge in college and closely observed him workout at my health club this summer in DC (he was there with Carmelo). My man should be called Ulius Hodge because he has nothing resembling a jump shot. That's going to make it difficult to stick in this league.

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Baltimore, MD: Sometimes I wish media coverage of players (in recent memory, Ray Allen and more recently Arenas and Carmelo) gave less play to the impending births of their children. In so many of these situations, there is no marriage in the picture. Not that the births of their children are still not joys, but perhaps it's sending a bad example to young children who are seeing these people they idolize procreating without marriage, and in Arenas's case, without even a relationship. Okay, I'm being a social conservative, but I wanted to get that off my chest.

How many of these ballplayers have kids without marriage? I would love to see the numbers on that.

Michael Lee: Dude, how many people have children out of wedlock? I don't have the statistics, but I'm pretty sure it's becoming more of the norm in this nation. This isn't the "Leave it to Beaver" days, people have children out wedlock. Don't be afraid to step into the 21st century. This isn't an NBA issue, this is life in America these days. I don't think kids are sitting back and saying, "Wow, Gilbert just had a baby out of wedlock, I will to." I mean, these aren't sneakers, these are babies. Plus, Carmelo is engaged to his soon-to-be baby's mother. Does that make you happy?

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D.C.: Are you guys concerned that Grunfeld might, not necessarily overpay, but give Stevenson more money than he should be getting? I'm all for consistency, but you can probably plug Michael at the 2 and we wouldn't miss a beat.

Michael Lee: You mean me? Or Michael Jordan at age 44? I'm flattered that you think I can start at shooting guard in the NBA, but I've been struggling to get runs at the local gym lately. I still think I can hit an open jumper, but I'm moving like Barkley before he trained to race Dick Bevetta right about now.

My question to you is, what is a fair salary for DeShawn? I know Ernie isn't one to overpay, but you really cannot discount what DeShawn has given the team. I'm pretty sure his agent will remind Ernie that he got DeShawn on the super cheap this season and try to recoup some of the $10 million DeShawn lost when he passed on the deal from Orlando. DeShawn wanted to get $4 million per last year. Based on what some of these bums around the league make, DeShawn should get at least that much.

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Atlanta: What's up with Michael Ruffin? Is he okay?

Ivan Carter: I spoke with Ruff after the game and he said he is fine. The team was waiting on some blood tests that took a week to come through. He was hoping to get a positive word in time to fly down to Atlanta for tonight's game. I see him back in the lineup on Saturday against the Knicks at the latest.

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D.C.: ABC has to have the worse basketball schedule ever. Its literally a rotation of games featuring Miami, Cleveland, Dallas, San Antonio, Phoenix, Detroit and the Lakers. I'm all for the NBA trying to market the "big" teams, but some of these games are flat out boring. Thoughts?

Michael Lee: I used to really hate it back in the day when we had to watch the Bulls or Knicks every week in the late '90s, then the Lakers in the early part of this decade. I wish the league would mix it up, but the NBA has to make money and people tend to watch the same teams all the time. You just have to deal with that. My problem is that no other games can be televised when they are scheduled at the time of the NBA Sunday game. That's horrible. At least give us a choice if we have League Pass.

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Rockville, Md.: Will Eddie Jordan consistently use a 11-12 man rotation going into the playoffs or is he just trying to get his bench some minutes?

Ivan Carter: He came out and said that he plans on playing "everyone" during these final two months and my guess is that you'll see him slim it down over the course of those final five to 10 games and then go with a 8 or 9 man rotation in the playoffs. Here's the question: who is going to get in that rotation? Gilbert, DeShawn, Caron, Antawn and Brendan are obvious locks. Eddie likes what Etan can bring so that's six and Jarvis has been getting consistent minutes all season, so that's seven. That leaves Songaila, Blatche, Ruffin, Mason, Taylor and Booth scrapping for minutes. I like what Booth has done with his shot blocking in the last two games and Songaila is coming along. Blatche has shown real nice ability and Hayes made some shots last night. It's going to be interesting. The good thing is that these guys can't slack off even a bit because Eddie can just turn to someone else.

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Bridgewater, Va.: Is it really Gil's chiropractor that made it all better, or is it mentally he is in a better place because Jamison is back?

Ivan Carter: According to Gilbert and the physical therapist (I labeled him a chiropractor which was not technically correct because while he does chiropractic, he's not one) and they said the treatment that day fixed something in that shoulder. Gilbert said his range of motion instantly increased.

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Nags Head, N.C.: How do you (collectively) feel about the Dwayne Wade decision. I know he is a rival but Wade seems to be one of the truly likable superstars. I know Shack and Mourning told him to look out for himself but shouldn't Riley be looking out for Wade and the franchise rather than one more championship? The way Riley has populated the team would not be reassuring from long-term perspective. Again, I know the Wizards could benefit from a "bad" decision here, but I would rather have us become better rather than the other teams worse. It sucks having the East treated as the stepchild of the NBA.

Michael Lee: Naggzz Hedea, did you reallie gust writte Shack? Shaquille O'Neal hasn't been around long enough for you to spell it Shaq?

But seriously, I don't think Riley is concerned too much about the future of the franchise when the future is now. There is no guarantee that Riley will still be the coach next season and this might be the last chance Shaq, Mourning, Payton and those guys have an opportunity to win another title.

I respect Wade for being loyal and committed, but I really think he should've shut it down. I know he said he doesn't risk any more damage to his shoulder, but I don't see how he's making it any better, either.

But I don't see how the Wizards benefit from Wade coming back. They are 0-16 all-time against Wade. He's scary with one arm or two.

And, the East is the stepchild of the NBA. It has been cleaning the floors while the West is at the ball this season.

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Burke, VA: I thought last night was the first time this year all the talk from the offseason became reality...Big 3 were solid, center by committee was effective, Daniels was the bench spark at guard and Songaila was hitting 15-footers and dishing dimes from the elbow. What do you think?

Ivan Carter: That might have been this team's most complete performance all season. It's one thing to win because Gilbert drops 50 while Caron and Jamison throw in 20 apiece but they won last night because everyone got in on the act. All 12 guys scored, the ball moved, they rebounded and showed nice chemistry.

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Washington, D.C.: To the guy from Baltimore whining about stories that feature (black) basketball players having kids out of wedlock: Are you as "outraged" by similar stories involving Tom Brady and Matt Leinart? Just curious.

Michael Lee: Exactly. Is he outraged that bell bottoms are no longer in style? Is he outraged that McDonald's stopped making the McDLT? Is he outraged that MC Hammer is no longer making hits? Get with the times, Baltimore.

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Reston, Va.: Hello, I have a question that is not Wizards-specific, but still appropriate.

I'm disappointed in the constant news reports of sports stars being arrested for breaking the law. These are public figures that children (and adults) look to as a sign of success and respect. What can I do as a fan to show disappointment and ask players to step up their personal game, and make positive contributions to society? It's a shame when a few players tarnish things for the many respectable players who give back to the community.

Ivan Carter: I'll say this about Artest: It's probably time for Stern to throw that dude out of the league. It's always something. First, it was going into the stands after a fan who tossed a beer cup at him, then it was leaving his dogs out to nearly starve to death, again (why not just open the fence and let them go, at least they'd have a fighting chance and I'm not buying the bit about him hiring someone to take care of his dogs and that someone failed. I own a dog and would never just "trust" someone to watch her without knowing they'd do a good job) and now, a possible domestic violence case. He's a real winner.

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Mt. Pleasant: IC, AD has gotta be in the playoff rotation, no?

Ivan Carter: I didn't leave him out did I? Yeah, AD will be in there but if he struggles, Eddie won't hesitate to go elsewhere. DeShawn has taken a lot of the fourth quarter minutes that went to AD last year.

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Mt. Pleasant: Think we'll ever see Juan Carlos Navarro in a Wizards uniform? Would it make sense to try to trade his rights?

Seems like a valuable asset to have...

Ivan Carter: They will continue to hold onto his rights until he decides he wants to play in the NBA. Ernie's not stupid. The problem is that he signed a huge extension and has a multi-million dollar buyout with Barcelona. If the dude really wanted to test himself in the NBA, he would not have signed that extension.

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Around to Center: Two questions here fellas,

Who did you two think was the better center in his prime and why, Patrick Ewing or David Robinson?

As for today's game, Eddy Curry. What are your impressions of him as a player? I know he can score, but it seems the other components that make a great center -- passing, rebounding, defense -- he doesn't do. Am I being too harsh saying this, or is he better than I think he his?

Michael Lee: The only question I have for you is, which player won the MVP? Which player won the scoring title? Which player scored 71 in a game? Which player was a force on defense and the glass? Which player has two NBA championship rings? The answer to all of those questions is the answer to yours: David Robinson, my friend. Not even close.

As for Eddy Curry, I completely agree with you. Right now, Curry is simply a scorer. He has to do those other things - rebounding, passing and defending - and make his team a winner before he reaches that next level. This season, though, has been an awakening. It's been enjoyable to see him develop. Isiah has done a great job with him.

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D.C.: Fair for Stevenson is 4 yrs/$14-16 million, with an option for a fifth year carrying it to a 5 yr/$20 mil. Stevenson should not break the bank but I wouldn't be surprised if he bolted a la Hughes and cashes in somewhere else.

Ivan Carter: Here's the funny thing about guys in his position: one great playoff series, and the price tag sky rockets. Look at Tim Thomas last year or James Jones with the Sonics two years ago. Heck, Antonio Daniels was huge for the Sonics in the playoffs two years ago and that's a big reason why the Wizards gave him big money. If DeShawn balls out while this team makes a serious run, he's going to get paid, here or elsewhere.

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Washington, DC: Hey! How come A.D. had so much better a game last night than the last few times? He looked like the Antonio of old, I thought. Very nice to see.

Ivan Carter: Let's see AD stick that jumper and play with that impact for a few games before we draw any major conclusions. That was the AD of old last night and this team could use it.

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Tysons, Va.: Hey Guys,

Do you think the injury to Jason Kapano is the nail in the coffin for the Heat? If he is out for an extended period of time, who will step up to replace their second-highest scorer? Looks like the Wiz can start breathing easier now.

Michael Lee: I don't think you can bury the Heat until Riley and Shaq decide to give up. I thought Miami was done when Wade went down. I thought Miami was done when Riley had hip surgery. I thought Miami was done without Shaq. But the East is really bad, really, really bad. The Pacers are sinking like a rock. The Magic is looking like a bad trick. And the New Jersey Nets look like they don't care. If the pride of Riley and Shaq can't get the Heat into the playoffs, Miami should at least get in by default.

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Bowie, Md.: What do you guys think of my Pacers complete collapse the last month or so it may be reach but if they keep playing like this they may find themselves watching the playoffs?

Michael Lee: Just about everybody out in the East Bay thought that the honeymoon wouldn't last long for Dunleavy and Murphy in Indiana. A lot of folks thought those dudes were too soft to play in the bump-and-grind East, especially since some called them too soft for the wide-open West. I initially thought the deal would work in favor of the Pacers because I thought Dunleavy and Murphy would fit in better with Rick Carlisle's system. The Pacers looked good right after the deal, and were 29-24 on Feb. 21, so I felt pretty good. Then, I noticed that they had a rough schedule the last two months of the season. Now, they've lost six in a row and are now 9-11 overall with those guys. They'll probably lose seven in a row tonight in Utah. The schedule looks really rough for them down the stretch. They could easily be watching, because I don't see many definite wins the rest of the way. I just think Carlisle will make sure they get it straight.

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Washington, D.C.: I think you were too hard on the man who criticized the coverage of players having babies. I'm a young woman and fairly understanding of new cultural phenomenons, changing with the times, etc. However, we shouldn't sit by and idly accept that times are changing and this is now how babies come into the world. There is something to be said for two-parent homes. As for Melo, having a baby with a fiancee is NOT the same thing as having one with a wife. It's just not. I know this has nothing to do with sports but I had to jump in the conversation here.

Maybe you were just veering away from the question since it wasn't directly related to sports, however, it wasn't such a ridiculous point to make and you can't take for granted the example that these guys are setting. They are role models, kids are watching, their actions and lifestyles have an impact.

Ivan Carter: Another perspective on the fatherhood issue. My take: you always have to examine issues like this within the perspective of society as a whole but, it is true that these guys are role models. As African Americans I think we all know that the breakdown of family life is a major issue and fair or not, athletes are always going to be held up as a examples. Then again, we have to look at the flip side: Antawn Jamison and his wife just had their second daughter. Antonio Daniels and his wife have a lovely little girl. Etan and his wife have a little boy. Caron's wife is always at games with their cute little girl so, it can be dangerous to focus in on the guys who have children outside of marriage when there are, in fact, a lot of guys in stable relationships building families with their wives. Just a take.

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Potomac Falls, Va.: Hi,

What's the deal with Kobe? Another "fragrant" elbow to the defender's face after his shot?? The NBA has to suspend him -- it's the exact move he used against Manu a month back.

Michael Lee: You're right. Based on the precedent set in January, the league has to suspend him again for chopping down on Marko Jaric's face. It was the same situation, a player sneaks him and blocks a shot on the same side as his shooting arm and gets floored.

I thought it was terrible to suspend him back then, because I didn't think he intentionally tried to clobber Manu Ginobili. I thought a fine would suffice, but now I have to wonder what Stu Jackson and the league office does with the dude. If they do nothing, they're basically saying that Jaric isn't nearly as important as Ginobili. Or this didn't matter because the game wasn't on ABC. I'm interested in seeing what happens.

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D.C.: What is the likelihood that Mike Hall will be suiting up and playing tonight? He was one of the big reasons why GW was so successful last year.

Ivan Carter: They like Mike but right now, this rotation is so deep, I don't see him getting any action unless someone goes down.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Here's my hunch -- If Stevenson gets hot and commands big money, look for Grunfeld to go after Pietrus from Golden State.

Ivan Carter: I do like Pietrus. Tremendous athlete and he's shown an improving J.

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Arlington, Va.: My friend has this crazy notion that Pecherov will be a bust, please set this man straight, I'm tired of arguing with him about it. He subscribes to the theory that drafting foreign players with potential should be avoided at all cost, and instead you should draft familiar names you know will at least play for you.

Ivan Carter: Michael Olowokandi, Raef LaFrentz and Robert Traylor were all "proven" college players taken over a long German dude named Dirk Nowitzki in the 1998 draft. How'd that work out?

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Forearm Shiver, USA: Now will all the Kobe apologists accept that he INTENTIONALLY fires off elbows when there's a defender in his face? How many more elbows and forearms to the face have to happen before the league takes action beyond a one-game suspension? Kobe tries to disguise this thuggery by making it look like it's the natural progression of his shot, but I'm not buying it. What discipline will the league hand down this time?

Michael Lee: Are you sure it was intentional or does Kobe have some odd reflex disorder that causes his right arm to spaz whenever his shot is blocked? This is a funny comment. Back when Kobe was the league's golden boy, I never thought I'd see "Kobe" and "thuggery" in the same sentence. Like I said earlier, I'm seriously interested in what the league does. If they suspend him again, Kobe might have to get his disorder fixed, huh?

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Babies: It's just showing the NBA players don't have to be responsible human beings when it comes to that aspect of life and teaching safe sex. I bet hockey players don't have the same number of out-of-wedlock births, baseball the same way. But it seems that in the NBA, a player can have three or four kids with three or four different people. Is that what you want to teach your son? It's okay to sleep with as many women as you want just because you're a superstar? Come on guys, get responsible here.

Michael Lee: I had no idea that the chat would become a discussion on the American family. I think people are confusing what I was trying to say. I'm not starting a campaign to support babies being born out of wedlock. I think that it's best for kids to be born to married parents. That's always been my plan in life. But I have too many family members and friends who have children out of wedlock to sit back and judge them.

I'm just saying that people need to get off their high chairs and accept that this is the way of the world.

And this is NOT an NBA issue. Rock stars, movie stars, professional athletes, construction workers, secretaries, businessmen, CEOs, architects and (fill in the profession) have children out of wedlock. By writing about NBA players with children out of wedlock, we are not "supporting," we are "reporting."

Ivan Carter: That's a good point and like I said, I know far too many pro athletes who are good husbands and responsible parents to paint a picture that these cats are just running around knocking females up left and right. True, they -- like all athletes, rock stars, politicians, etc. are surrounded by ladies, many of them lovely, but it's not exactly an episode of "Rome" either.

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Elephant in the Room: Over the last month, Haywood has shown that he's far more effective. Is Thomas hurt?

Ivan Carter: How about Calvin Booth's play of late? He gives them something that is truly unique: the ability to consistently block or change shots with those long arms and, the ability to step out and make that 15-foot J. He's earned minutes.

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D.C.: Uh yeah...is it possible to sign Blatche to a 10-year deal? This kid SHOULD NOT go anywhere. At all.

Michael Lee: Ten year deals are not allowed in the collective bargaining agreement. The max is six years, but if Andray keeps showing improvement -- don't worry -- he's not going anywhere.

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Expelling Ron:: Ivachael,

Suppose Ron-Ron's latest blow-up pushed Stern to try and get him out of the league. My question is, could he? I could see Billy Hunter and the union fighting that one tooth and nail. Is there any precedent for a guy being kicked out for non-drug-related charges?

Ivan Carter: I'm not sure but if Michael Ray Richardson could get tossed for repeatedly inhaling nose candy, how can you not toss a brawl starting, animal abusing, (alleged) women beater? I mean, what does the guy have to do? Take on a Muslim name and stop standing for the national anthem? (remember the artist formerly known as Chris Jackson?)

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Germantown, Md.: Speaking of gift-wrapped games, what about the games where somehow the refs allow an inbound pass and shot within a second? Whoever runs the clocks in the NBA and NCAA are always slow. ALWAYS. You can't catch, turn and release a ball in .7 seconds.

Michael Lee: You can if you are on the home team and the owner is paying the shot clock operator.

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D.C.: Not that it mattered yesterday, but where was Etan? I read that he had family issues. That's it?

Ivan Carter: I really don't have any information on this other than what the team told us last night. They just said he was allowed to go home and attend to family issues. His wife was not at the game as she usually is so I'm just hoping it's nothing too serious.

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Rockville, Md.: Hey Ivan,

Nice article on you in the Washingtonian - when are we gonna start seeing you on "Around the Horn"???

Ivan Carter: Thanks. You looking to be my agent?

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Rockville, Md.: Basketball has mostly escaped the recent steroid and HGH scandals -- how prevalent, if at all, do you think performance-enhancing drugs are in the NBA and have you seen any evidence of their use?

Michael Lee: I'm not going to step out and say that no one uses steroids in the NBA, but I would say that it is the usage is least prevalent in the NBA than in baseball or football because those sports rely on power and strength more. I know HGH helps with recovery for workouts, but I wouldn't think it was an epidemic. Only three guys - Don Maclean, Matt Geiger and some dude named Soumaila Samake - have ever been caught using steroids since the league started drug testing.

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Burke, Va.: Of course, as we know from the J. Kidd family, all marriages are sweetness and light.

Michael Lee: Right. Right.

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Elephant in the Room Returns: But you didn't answer my question! Thomas was the starter when the season commenced, and now he's behind Booth. What happened to Thomas's game? He's gotten slower, and less effective. Is he hurt?

Ivan Carter: Well, let's see. He missed 13 games with an ankle injury and then it took a little while to get back. Then the brawl happened and he missed two games that way and he missed another last night. Things just haven't really flowed for him all season. The last time Etan was really dominant was that third game of the season at Orlando when he had 14 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks. Since then, he's had two double doubles and his minutes have fluctuated.

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Out of Wedlock: Michael,

Do you realize that two-thirds (yes, two out of every three) black children is born out of wedlock? This is devastating to the black community, yet you speak as if it doesn't matter. I'm taken aback by your "get with the times" attitude. As for Brady and Leinart, children out of wedlock isn't nearly as frequent and problematic for whites. In case you're wondering, I'm black.

Michael Lee: Dude, I'm black too. But I'm not saying it doesn't matter or that it's not an issue for the black community. I'm saying that I can't do anything about it. All that I can do is live MY life the way I see fit and hope others will do the same. I'm married and I plan on having kids with my wife, but I can't stop other people from having children with their girlfriends or whatever.

Are you doing something about it? Should I walk through NBA locker rooms handing out condoms? Do you want me to give sermons about abstinence at the pre-game shootaround?

Look, let me end this topic right now. I am NOT saying that having children out of wedlock is the way to go. I'm saying that based on the numbers that you have given out here, it really is more of the norm. Relax people. Can we talk about basketball or something?

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Rockville, Md.: In practices throughout the season, how much game-planning for the next opponent occurs, as opposed to working on general plays and concepts? Does the team track opponent tendencies and how to exploit them on a game-to-game basis?

Ivan Carter: Quite a bit of planning goes in and it's carried by the advance scouts who track an opponent two or three times and then file pretty extensive reports. The scouts are always around us at games and you can always tell that the Wiz are getting ready to play, say Portland, because a Portland scout will hit a few games leading up to that game. This is key, because the coaching staff is almost totally focused on the previous game and their own team. Once the scout files a report, the coaches use it for the practice or walk through prior to the game against that opponent. Now, it gets really interesting when there is some familiarity between coaches or players. An example: During the first quarter of Sunday's game against Golden State, Don Nelson called out an inbounds play and Eddie Jordan immediately turned and told his team what was coming. Jordan patterned his philosophies off of Nelson as a young assistant with Sacramento where he was under Gary St. Jean (a former Nelson assistant) and is very familiar with what Nellie likes to do. So Nellie, hearing Jordan, yells down: "Hey Eddie, don't be giving away my (stuff)!" Eddie just started laughing: "I learned it from you Nellie." It was funny but also telling.

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D.C.: Must admit, I was very wary of Songaila and got concerned with the whole back situation. Now? He'll be perfect for this team, AD or Gil penetrating, kicking it out to Darius for the 15 footer? That's money.

Ivan Carter: He's going to help this team down the stretch and against the playoffs, particularly against teams with smaller front lines because he can draw his man out in pick-and-roll situations and make that jumper if the D sags on Gilbert and Caron. He's also a pretty decent position defender - he's not going to shock anyone by blocking shots or physically shoving guys around - but he plays the passing lanes well, has quick hands and generally understands where his teammates are. He's a very fundamentally sound ballplayer and Michael could explain why after traveling to Lithuania where he saw how those guys are drilled from a very young age.

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Chicago: Other than the Heat, what other teams in the eastern conference could give the Wizards problems in the playoffs? They seem to match up well against the Pistons, but have struggled against the Bulls.

Thoughts?

Ivan Carter: Oddly, I think Toronto could be a tough out. They are long with Bosh, Nesterovic and Bargnani, TJ Ford has always given Gilbert problems and they can put five shooters on the floor at all times so they can potentially match the Wizards in terms of pace and scoring punch.

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Frederick, Md.: Who has the best ride on the Wizards?

Someone has to be spending some money on some 24s

Ivan Carter: I'm fond of my 1995 Honda Accord. Can't keep the groupies away.

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McLean, Va.: Hey Guys,

Does it look like the Lakers might be heading downhill with the injuries to Walton and Odom? They have a nice lead for the sixth spot but not sure if they can sustain it for the final drive to the playoffs.

Michael Lee: I think more than Odom or Walton, the Lakers should be concerned about Kobe's Dikembe-like elbows. As expected, the NBA just suspended Kobe Bryant for tonight's game against against the Bucks. The league really had no choice, I guess.

I think the Lakers still get in because the teams below them haven't exactly been tearing it up either. But Phil will have to get something going. The Lakers have 11 of their last 21 games on the road. Will it be Kwame to the rescue?

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Rockville, Md.: What do you think is a realistic w/l record for the Wiz's upcoming road trip?

Ivan Carter: Win at Atlanta tonight. Split Miami/Indiana this Sunday and Wednesday. Split Portland/Seattle next week. Split Golden State/Lakers. Win at Utah. That works out to 5-3. They'd take that, wouldn't they?

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Ivan Carter: Thanks for dropping in everyone. Take care and enjoy tonight's game against the Hawks.

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D.C.: Should Otis Smith get fired? The Magic at one point where in first place in the East, now they are either in eighth or looking in to make the playoffs. Looking at their roster, they have no go-to guy. What moves should they make in the offseason?

Michael Lee: No, Otis Smith should not get fired. Do you remember that he got rid of Steve Francis? He should get a three-year pass for making that deal alone.

But he will really have to prove himself this summer. The Magic is several million under the cap and it really has to address its issues of not having a primary scorer. Yes, Orlando started fast, but it seriously couldn't expect Grant Hill to carry to offensive load in the twilight of his career. Somebody like Rashard Lewis might be perfect for the Magic. That's really the missing piece in Orlando -- somebody to be that one-two punch with Dwight. Jameer Nelson hasn't improved the way anyone hoped, but they should be alright if they can keep Darko and find somebody to put the ball in the hole.

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Washington, D.C.: Enough about out of wedlock children. Let's talk about gay ball players!! The other day on Kornheiser's show, David DuPree said people in the league, on the teams, and in the media who cover the league know who the current players are who are gay. Is that the case? I'm not going to ask any follow up questions asking who, but I do think it is interesting that, if true, it is known in the league if not the public.

Michael Lee: Okay. I've had enough. Clearly nobody wanted to talk hoops this week. I'm going to call up everyone I know who has a child out of wedlock and tell them that there is a spot reserved for them in H-E-double hockey sticks then I'll catch the Hawks-Wizards game and talk basketball with those guys. Peace. And look forward to next week.

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