A day after being stunned by the eight-man Toronto Raptors, owners of the second-worst record in the NBA, the Washington Wizards were still rattled to the core by their shockingly dismal performance.
"This is bad," guard Larry Hughes said yesterday after practice. "We felt like it was a game that will tell what kind of team we wanted to be. If we came out and took care of business and moved on to the next game, we'd feel good about ourselves. Since we didn't do that, we're not too happy with what we did."
What the Wizards did was lose their second consecutive home game to a sub-.500 team (they lost to Golden State Friday) and fell for the third time to one of the NBA's doormats. Earlier this season, they lost to the then-winless Memphis Grizzlies.
"Those three losses could come back and haunt us," guard Michael Jordan said. "We gave one back to the course [against Toronto]. Now we've got to go make a birdie somewhere to even that out, to win a game no one expects us to win."
Jordan could be talking about tonight's matchup with the visiting Orlando Magic (20-20), which is tied with the Wizards (19-19) for seventh place in the Eastern Conference playoffs but holds the tiebreaker thus far, winning the first two of four meetings. He may also be talking about a game in the near future, when leading scorer Jerry Stackhouse (pulled left groin) is back in action.
Coach Doug Collins, who challenged his team to win all four games during this homestand, starting with the Raptors, faced the media blank-faced yesterday, saying he couldn't gauge his team because after a film session, he left them to drill on their own with the assistant coaches.
"I just told them I would see them [today] at shoot-around," Collins said. "I thought maybe our guys could get away and maybe they'd come back [today] with more energy."
Lead assistant Brian James said: "Everybody came down [and practiced]. They wanted to get rid of this game. They're disappointed like everybody."
The loss to the Raptors, who needed to use three players on 10-day contracts simply to fulfill the NBA-minimum roster limit, was more than just a bad game. It was a loss that seemed to re-ignite the Wizards' insecurities.
"That's the disappointing thing," Jordan said. "With a young team you never know. We have the capability of being a really good team. We have the capability of being a [very bad] team. With that wide range of uncertainty, it's really tough, especially when you're trying to make up ground and get into the playoffs. You have to have a certain personality or something you can count on every time you step on the floor. Right now we don't seem to have that."
Said outspoken forward Charles Oakley: "We can say we're young, this and that. We're trying to develop this, develop that. When are we going to learn? It's almost 40 games into the season."
Oakley, who has played on his share of playoff teams in New York and Toronto, said he is struggling to fathom why some players can't grasp the opportunity of playing in the postseason.
"We should be better than what we are," Oakley said. "We've got to put it on ourselves, step up like men and realize for us to make the playoffs we've got to play every night, play hard, that we can't take shortcuts.
"It's not hard to be in the middle of the [Eastern Conference playoff] pack. If we were in the West we wouldn't even be in the pack. We'd be in the backyard with the dogs and can't get in the house. In the East the front door's open and the back door's open so you can run through the house. If we're one of those dogs in the East, we've got to step it up and starting biting somebody."