The Washington Wizards seem like the ideal candidates for a study on inconsistent behavior. They play hard for a game or two, win and begin talking about how their confidence is surging.
Then they face a team such as the Chicago Bulls, which until Wednesday night had been 2-26 with 11 consecutive losses, and they play poorly and lose. And not only did the Wizards lose to the Bulls, they scored a franchise-low 66 points, missing 14 layups and shooting 28 percent.
This after they had won six of their previous 10 games, including a 99-87 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Monday night.
"Every team seems to realize they can break a losing streak against us," Washington Coach Gar Heard said. "Our guys have to realize we have to play hard every night.
"We're not going to beat everybody by walking on the court. . . . I just can't understand why we let teams end up breaking losing streaks against us.
"When we were on losing streaks, every team that we played seemed like they played that much harder--and we're doing just the opposite.
"I would like to think it is just effort. I would like to think the talent is there."
Said forward Michael Smith, who made 1 of 3 shots in the loss to Chicago: "I think when you're on a roll, sometimes you feel everything's going to go your way and you can turn it on whenever you want.
"We're digging ourselves in a hole. When we have opportunities, we never take advantage of them and that's what we need to start doing."
The Wizards' humbling loss to Chicago, which they face tonight at MCI Center, wasn't a first for them this season. They have established a pattern of defeating teams such as the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs and the New York Knicks and then losing to lesser teams.
The Wizards have been the salve for teams with losing streaks.
After winning three consecutive games over New Jersey, New York and Detroit last month, Washington faced the Houston Rockets, who had lost six of their previous seven games. The Wizards lost, 105-89.
Two games later, the Wizards faced Cleveland, which had lost seven in a row. They committed 21 turnovers, scored just 11 fast-break points to Cleveland's 28, and were defeated, 96-94.
Earlier in the season, the Wizards ended a seven-game losing streak by beating the Toronto Raptors, then lost their next game to a Los Angeles Clippers team that had only nine players available and had lost five of its previous six games.
Then came Wednesday night's debacle against the Bulls.
Wizards players said they were prepared, strategically, for Monday night's game, and that their woeful performance against the Bulls was self inflicted.
"We just didn't play hard the whole game," Smith said. "We took Chicago lightly."
The Wizards are just a handful of victories from being in playoff contention in the muddled Eastern Conference, but with their longest winning streak of the season being a three-gamer, the question is whether they can maintain any type of prolonged success.
"Nobody is trying to lose games--just some days things go well and some days things don't go well," said forward Tracy Murray, who led Washington on Monday night with 18 points.
"We didn't shoot well and our energy was suspect [against Chicago]. It was an opportune time and it was bad timing to play that bad.
"Things are bad already and it can get worse. I know we can do better. We've just got to go out and do it.
"We've done a lot of talking saying we can do this and it's not making a bit of difference if we don't go out and do it."
Wizards Notes: Backup center Ike Austin was excused from practice yesterday because of the flu. His playing status for tonight will be determined at game time. If Austin can't play, Gerard King will back up starter Jahidi White.
Wizards vs. Chicago Bulls
* Where: MCI Center.
* When: 7 p.m.
* TV: HTS.
* Radio: WTEM-980.
* Tickets: Available.
* Records: Wizards 11-21, Bulls 3-26.
* Injuries: Wizards G Laron Profit (tendinitis left knee), F Lorenzo Williams (recovering from knee surgery) and C Calvin Booth (strained right hamstring) are on the injured list. Bulls G Hersey Hawkins (left medial gastroc tear) is on the injured list; G Fred Hoiberg (strained left quadriceps) is doubtful.