Jamison: Wizards Need to Wake Up

Leader Calls Utah Game 'Must Win'

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 10, 2008; Page E06

As Antawn Jamison got dressed following the Washington Wizards' 106-81 loss to the Orlando Magic on Saturday, someone reminded him that the Wizards started last season 0-5 and that the team has gotten off to slow starts the past three seasons. The comment was meant to put Jamison at ease. Instead, it fired him up.

"Yeah," Jamison said, "but I'm sick of seeing this."

The Wizards, the NBA's only winless team, have made a habit of treating the start of the season the way a late-night partier treats an early morning wakeup call; trying to sneak in some extra sleep before they finally are forced to get up and scramble.

The constant repetition is becoming a tired act for Jamison, who said he was frustrated with the team's lack of desperation against the Magic.

"The makeup of the locker room, the environment of the locker room needs to change," Jamison said. "I'm not saying that it's almost like acceptable, but guys are not upset. Guys are not hurting. This is your job. It's all about representing what's on your chest and doing it the right way. When you don't do your job and don't represent the right way, it should hurt."

The reasons for the groggy starts in past seasons have varied. The Wizards began 12-18 three seasons ago while Coach Eddie Jordan figured out how to incorporate Caron Butler. They stumbled to a 4-9 start when DeShawn Stevenson joined the team two seasons ago. And last season they went 0-5 adjusting to a wobbly Gilbert Arenas and assistant coach Randy Ayers' new defensive system.

But the Wizards' ability to flirt with disaster may have also become a crutch. Getting out of their predicament might be harder this time, with so many obstacles standing in front of them.

They are dealing with injuries to Arenas, Brendan Haywood and Antonio Daniels, who missed the game against Orlando with a sore right knee. Daniels will be examined today to determine the severity of his injury. The Wizards play Utah on Wednesday, and Jamison said, "It's pretty much a must-win six games into the season."

The Wizards also are playing like a team that was selected for a random pickup game, not one with a core group that has practically been together for the past two seasons. They have been sluggish and often looked confused offensively, averaging just 97.4 points. And they have been horrid defensively, ranking at the bottom of the league in opponents' scoring average (108.8 points) and opponents' field goal percentage (50.2).

"We've got a lot we've got to work on," center Etan Thomas said. "We're not going in panic mode. We don't have guys that are going to give up. Team morale is not going to go down."

Teams aren't going to let up on a physically beat-down team, especially with the Wizards' ability to make the playoffs with Arenas missing most of last season.

"The last couple of years, they've really had injury problems and it's hurt them," Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy said, "but the thing you know about them, they're always going to be really competitive."

That had been the case before Saturday, when the Magic nearly matched the Wizards' total margin of defeat in their first four games combined (32 points), leading by 29 points late in the third period. With a white bandage covering the gash on his left eye following a first-half collision with Orlando's Mickael Pietrus, Butler has become the visual symbol of the Wizards' early troubles. The knockdown left Butler with a severe headache after the game, and he's also growing increasingly impatient.

"I'm willing to do whatever it takes, whether it's go get 20, 30 rebounds, whether it's put up the points or be a playmaker for the most part," Butler said. "But my blood pressure's building, and it's only so much longer I can wait. You don't want to take too much on yourself, but at the same time, you want the results."

Jamison said as one of the leaders of the team, he'll have to deliver the wake-up call if his teammates haven't gotten it yet. "I always find a way to get it done. It's going to happen," Jamison said. "I'm confident we can get it going, but I don't want to wait 10, 15 games into the season to get it going and you're putting too much pressure to win every game placed in front of you. The sense of urgency is here."

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