-- At a time when the Washington Wizards are supposed to be playing as a team and at their best, they are, at least record-wise, at their worst.
Their third consecutive loss, a 113-107 defeat to the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, dropped them five games below .500 for the first time this season, leaving them with the same 32-37 record they built after 69 games last season, when Michael Jordan missed 22 games because of a knee injury.
The difference now is that Jordan is healthy and playing at a relatively high level and the Wizards, with 13 regular season games left, are still in the playoff hunt. They trail the Milwaukee Bucks by 11/2 games for the final berth in the Eastern Conference.
That hope is the only thing that seems to be holding the Wizards together as losses have rattled their confidence.
"It's not like we're 16 games out and finishing out the season," Coach Doug Collins said. "I would think we're not walking around [saying] 'Woe is me.' Let's compete. Let's win. I would find it very difficult for somebody to get any sympathy for playing a basketball game and losing and not being able to wake up the next day and say, 'I'm going to try a little harder.'
"All they have to do is turn on CNN. There are parents who don't sleep every night because their children or husbands or their wives are over there in hand-to-hand combat. To play a basketball game would be something that would be joyous."
The Wizards play the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday in the third game of a six-game Western Conference trip that could determine their playoff future. Washington has won only nine times away from home and only once on the road against Western Conference teams.
In this trip's opening losses to Phoenix and Golden State, the Wizards, as has been the case for much of the season, were unable to withstand their opponents' runs, when there was ample time to regain their footing.
"It's like if we get punched or kicked in the stomach it knocks all the air out of us and we can't recover," Collins said. "A lot of that goes with the fragileness of our psyche. Nine wins on the road? That's incredible. You should be able to win nine games on the road [out of 41] by going and playing hard. . . . In times of crisis we don't pull together. We try to do it too much ourselves. You can't win that way."
The Wizards also have been hurt by their inability to defend against three-point shots and to counter with three-pointers of their own. Washington is at a 49-9 disadvantage in three-point baskets over the last six games, a ratio that translates into a 147-27 point disparity.
The Warriors made four of their 10 three-pointers in the fourth quarter to help close out a game in which the Wizards had led by 14 in the third quarter. The Warriors rocked Washington with a 17-4 run.
"We don't do a good job of rotating, of making a team make another pass," Collins said of the team's struggles to protect against three-pointers. "We do not scramble and cover shooters well."
Said forward Kwame Brown, who had 10 points against Golden State: "It seems like everybody's making their shots. It kills you when you do the job in the paint, guys throw it out and guys make shots. I don't know what you can do."
The Wizards, one of the league's worst three-point shooting teams, have not made more than three three-pointers in any game over the past six while every opponent in that stretch other than Miami (four three-pointers made) converted at least eight.
Because the Wizards have no serious outside shooting threats, teams are either sagging into the lane or playing zone defenses to deny dribble penetration, which Jordan, Larry Hughes and Jerry Stackhouse like to parlay into high percentage shot opportunities and/or free throws.
Warriors Coach Eric Musselman said Wizards forward Bobby Simmons, who will be used more off the bench instead of Bryon Russell, was such an unthreatening offensive presence in the fourth quarter that the player who was assigned to guard Simmons was used to double-team Jordan or Stackhouse. Jordan failed to score in the fourth quarter and Stackhouse had just four points. Washington shot just 30 percent in the final period.
"We lagged off [Simmons]," Musselman said. "Although Simmons had a decent night shooting, we prefer him to shoot the ball rather than Jordan or Stackhouse."