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For most of the early season, through the sacking of coach Eddie Jordan and a rotation that couldn't seem to get out of its own way, the Washington Wizards weren't the buzz-saw team that the Celtics remembered from last season.

That has apparently changed.

Tonight's opponent appears to have new life, courtesy of an overtime win against Detroit on Tuesday that is more in line with the Washington team that beat the Celtics three times last season, including back-to-back wins on Jan. 12 and 14.

The Wizards not only had more regular-season wins over the Celtics than any other team in the league, that January home-and-home was one of only three times all year that the C's lost consecutive games.

So the Wizards clearly stand out now.

``They played us well last year,'' coach Doc Rivers said. ``It's going to be that way (tonight). They're coming off an unbelievable win (over Detroit).''

The difference is that unlike last season, when the Wizards played some of their best Basketball with Gilbert Arenas sidelined - a circumstance that allowed Caron Butler to step up with his own considerable talent - the Wizards had trouble adjusting to the same scenario this season.

With Arenas once again injured to start the season, the team was unable to recover. Jordan was fired and replaced with Ed Tapscott, an NBA front office veteran who has also served as an assistant on several teams.

``He's a jack of all trades,'' Rivers said of Tapscott. ``The big thing is that he's got them playing defense. They've definitely become a better defensive team. One thing I saw that (Tapscott) was doing was yanking guys, and putting in the ones that played hard. That had an impact.''

That's not to say that Rivers understands why Jordan, the former Nets assistant once considered one of the league's hot coaching prospects, was fired.

``In a way I'm never surprised when a coach gets (fired), but I was surprised by that one,'' Rivers said. ``They've had so many injuries. There's no way they should have been as good as they were last year. But it was Eddie Jordan who kept them going.''

The Wizards tonight will have one new presence who is a familiar face to Celtics' fans.

Former Celtic Mike James, who was stuck in Byron Scott's doghouse in New Orleans, where he had been benched for nine of the last 10 games, was sent to Washington yesterday in a minor trade for Antonio Daniels.

James' presence will presumably help fill the scoring vacuum left by Arenas' absence.

Rest vs. rhythm

The Celtics had their third straight off-day yesterday. And after playing 22 games over the first 42 days of the season, this is what passed for a treat.

Or maybe not.

``We almost were in that game rhythm where (the break) was like a shock to the system,'' Rivers said. ``I think the guys were actually looking for a game today. But the break has been nice.

``Now more of our guys can get healthy. Now we can rest and work on things that there have been a lot of slippage in.'' . . .

Ray Allen has been the hottest Celtic of late, and that's just fine with Paul Pierce, who has been scoring at his lowest clip in recent memory.

``A lot of the shots I'm taking are makeable shots,'' Pierce said. ``When Ray gets hot or Kevin (Garnett) gets hot, that's just the way the offense flows. With the way we've been winning, it's not a concern.''

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Added: December 13, 2008


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