Phoenix Suns forward Clifford Robinson hedged when asked if he was forced to work hard to get 31 points against the Washington Wizards on Thursday night. He did not have to answer, though. His laughter was enough.
What amused Robinson made Wizards Coach Gar Heard and assistant coach Tree Rollins, both former front-court players with a blue-collar approach, seethe. Robinson scored twice as many points as any Wizards front-court player in the 99-85 loss to the Suns.
No matter how good Washington's big men look in practice or how well they say they are prepared for the upcoming game, they routinely get pushed around by opponents, the coaches said.
And when the Wizards have the ball, the big men tend to take jump shots rather than power their way to the basket, Rollins and Heard said.
To think the Wizards have to face the best big-man tandem in the NBA--David Robinson and Tim Duncan, who is fresh off a 42-point performance against Vancouver--Saturday night at the Alamodome. Washington (5-16) has lost six straight.
"Any time [opponents] want to post up, they post up," Heard said. "We call post-up plays and we can't even get near the basket. Is that determination or is that just letting guys do what they want to do?"
Heard has challenged his front court before. In the short term he has received decent results. But as the season has progressed, center Ike Austin appears more and more out near the foul line and small forward Juwan Howard settles for jump shots instead of going to the basket.
"With the new rules, you would think it would be easier to post up because they can't stop you or bump you from going to the post," Rollins said. "But we haven't been able to transfer what we've been teaching. We've been trying to do it since training camp. We watch tape and we see other teams do it to us.
"I know our guys are strong enough, so they've just got to put in their minds to do what needs to be done--posting up deeper in the lane and taking the ball to the hoop."
Against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, Austin, Howard and Smith combined for 14 points and were 7 of 30 shooting. Los Angeles's front line answered with 51 points--30 by center Shaquille O'Neal. Against Phoenix, Howard finished with 15 points, nine coming in the second half when Washington got no closer than 14 points. Austin had 11 points but played just four minutes in the second half. Power forward Michael Smith, who is not a scorer, had three points.
Tom Gugliotta and Robinson combined for 58 points, prompting Gugliotta to say, "Tonight wasn't a real test for us."
Heard said he may adjust the playing time of his front-court players.
Heard may bring center Jahidi White off the bench early and, if White does not get into foul trouble, as he is prone to do, will stick with the beefy second-year player.
Power forward Aaron Williams, who drives aggressively to the basket when he is in the lineup, may also get more extended playing time, although he too is foul-prone.
"We're going to find an answer," Heard said.
Wizards Notes: Reserve small forward Tracy Murray said he is disgruntled with how the season has unfolded and with how he has played, and said he would welcome an opportunity to play elsewhere if the situation arose. However, he has not or will not ask to be traded.
"If something happens I'll play my butt off, but as long as I am here I'm going to play hard," he said.
Murray was quoted by CBS Sportsline, an Internet news site, as saying, "I've worn out my welcome here. . . . Now I'm just playing to provide for my family. I look at it like, if something's meant to happen, it'll happen. I'm always happy for a new opportunity."
Said General Manager Wes Unseld: "I'm not going to react to anything that Tracy Murray or any other player wants to say in some fashion like that and will not say it to the people who need to hear it."
Unseld would not comment on whether the Wizards are involved in trade talks regarding Murray.
Murray, who is averaging 7.7 points and 17.9 minutes and is shooting 38 percent, said his comments were taken out of context.
"No one's happy losing," said Murray, who is in the fourth year of a seven-year, $19 million contract.
"Ask anybody on this team if they're happy. I'm not trying to make no story or something. I'm just as frustrated as anyone else. My focus right now, whether I'm here or I'm not, is going out there on that floor and giving 100 percent every night."
Wizards vs. San Antonio Spurs
* Where: Alamodome.
* When: 8:30 p.m.
* TV: WBDC-50.
* Radio: WTEM-980.
* Records: Wizards 5-16, Spurs 15-6.
* Injuries: Wizards G Richard Hamilton (sprained right pinkie finger), F Lorenzo Williams (recovering from knee surgery) and C Calvin Booth (strained right hamstring) are on the injured list; Spurs F Jerome Kersey (sprained left ankle) is questionable; G Derrick Dial (strained lower back) and F Samaki Walker (sprained left ankle) are on the injured list.