As the NBA playoffs grow farther out of reach for the reeling Washington Wizards, some players' focus is drifting, with yesterday's practice as evidence, a team source said.
"Even if you're 25 games out, you're paid to play all 82 games," Wizards Coach Doug Collins said. "I'm not quitting. I'm going to come in and work and be prepared to play. And we're going to play to win every game. I would think the players would have that same mind-set. What would that say about you if you said, 'Well, we're not in the playoffs anymore so I'm going to shut it down.'
"Does that mean we don't have to pay you the rest of the games?"
Seven games -- including today's at Boston -- remain in the regular season, which will end April 16 in Philadelphia. The Wizards are 21/2 games out of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Collins said he, the team's front office and guard Michael Jordan will be evaluating personnel beginning today at Boston. Jordan plans to retire at the end of the season and return to his post as the Wizards' president of basketball operations.
"When we get together at the end of the year and say, 'You know what? So and so shut it down the last 11 games of the year.' Is that a person we want on our team?" Collins said. "Philly went through a stretch where they lost like 11 of 12 games. Detroit lost like seven in a row. Indiana went through a real dry stretch. The Lakers. Teams go through them. Regardless if it's the start of the year, the middle of the year or the end of the year, you have to fight through it.
"What happens is the sun starts shining outside, you say, 'We're not going to the playoffs,' and it's easy to talk yourself into giving less than your best. I sure hope our guys don't do that. That would hurt me more than any loss if I felt any of our guys quit playing."
Despite needing to win to keep pace with the Milwaukee Bucks for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, the Wizards (34-41) have lost four straight games, including one each to the Denver Nuggets and Atlanta Hawks. Both the Nuggets and Hawks were out of the playoff hunt before the all-star break in February.
"I don't know what everyone else's approach is but I'm going to play hard, the way I always play," point guard Tyronn Lue said. "We're paid professionals. That's how I play and that's how I'd expect everyone else to play."
Collins and Jordan have wanted the Wizards to hold each other accountable all season. But other than Jordan and Charles Oakley, who have publicly called out teammates, players have not exhibited much leadership, an assistant coach said last week.
"It comes down to individual pride and pride as a team," Collins said. "If you feel your teammate's not giving the best effort, then you say, 'If you don't want to play, go sit down.' One thing I've learned is you can't make somebody do something they don't want to do. If it's not within them, then it doesn't matter what you say or what you do. A person either has it or they don't."
Collins reiterated that if the Wizards are officially eliminated from the playoffs before the end of the regular season, he will do what Washington has done at the end of nearly every season since it last made the playoffs in 1997. He will play younger players.
"Even if I start playing some younger guys, that doesn't mean we're not playing to win," Collins said. "This is not play to get experience. This is not exhibition season. I sure hope that over a two-year period we've established a better mind-set than that."
Wizards Note: Guard Larry Hughes (sprained right ankle) will not join the team on the two-game trip to Boston and Cleveland. Hughes said he is still feeling too much discomfort to play but said he thinks he will be able to play again this season.