The Washington Wizards worked out on the main floor at MCI Center yesterday in front of a small group of season ticket holders who were given a rare opportunity to watch practice. For several Wizards, the simple act of waking up in familiar surroundings and driving to the home arena was cause for celebration, which likely explains why the players looked refreshed and practiced with a noticeable bounce in their step.
After playing six of their past seven games on the road, the Wizards (6-7) will play five of their next seven at MCI Center, where they are 3-2.
"It's real nice to be back here," forward Caron Butler said. "We had one of the worst stretches you can have playing out on the road, so it's going to be great being back here with the fans and everything. We feel like we can bounce back and put some games together."
Tomorrow's game against the Portland Trail Blazers will give the Wizards an opportunity to get out of November with a .500 record. A victory would serve as a boost heading into December, which features two meetings with the Miami Heat and a nine-day, five-game road trip out west right before Christmas.
The Wizards finished 7-5 in November last season, 7-6 in December and then came together to play some of their best basketball in January, when they ripped off seven straight wins and finished the month 11-4.
"A win [tomorrow night] puts us at .500 and we're always looking to win," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "Hopefully, this is our worst month of the season."
Feeling the Heat
The most frustrating part of the team's inconsistent start, according to forward Antawn Jamison, is that the Wizards lost a chance to put some distance between themselves and other teams in the Eastern Conference.
Jamison particularly would have liked to increase the lead they once had over Miami, which held a half-game lead over the Orlando Magic and a one game lead over the Wizards heading into a game against the New York Knicks tonight.
The Heat has been without Shaquille O'Neal (ankle) since Nov. 3, but the 12-time all-star should be back when the Wizards and Heat meet at Miami on Dec. 11. Miami has won 12 straight over the Wizards.
"That was a golden opportunity for us because you don't know how Miami is going to respond when the big fella comes back," Jamison said.
"You know they're going to play better, so we don't want to put ourselves in a position where Shaq comes in and they win 15 of 20 or something like that and we put ourselves in a tough position."
Rebounding Is Lacking
Jordan continues to harp on the need for his team to do a better job of rebounding, particularly on the defensive end. Opponents hold a 617-547 rebounding advantage over the Wizards (5.4 per game) and continue to hurt Washington by coming up with offensive rebounds that keep possessions alive and often lead to second-chance points.
During one key fourth-quarter sequence of Saturday night's 100-82 loss at Charlotte, the Wizards trailed by 10 following a Jamison three-pointer and had a chance to make the game interesting when Melvin Ely missed a free throw. However, Raymond Felton came up with the offensive rebound and passed the ball out to a wide-open Kareem Rush, who made a back-breaking three-pointer.
"We have to get better at rebounding the basketball," Jordan said. "That's been bad for us. We've been poor at that all year. It's a combination of making sure we have quality possessions offensively and making sure we maximize those and then defensively, we have to rebound the basketball."