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News » Still struggling, still upbeat

Still struggling, still upbeat

Still struggling, still upbeat
Despite having the worst record at the All-Star break in franchise history, the Washington Wizards returned from the much-needed four-day rest determined not to give up on the season.

With 29 games left, the Wizards (11-42) stand a half-game out of last place in the NBA and thoroughly out of the playoff picture. But that doesn't mean they have any desire to tank the rest of the season to land the top pick in June's draft.

In fact, starting with Tuesday's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Wizards would love to resemble the squad that, despite the absence of Gilbert Arenas, managed to remain competitive last season and not the one that has so utterly failed to do so in 2008-09.

This season's task has been more challenging because of additional injuries - to center Brendan Haywood, guard DeShawn Stevenson, center Etan Thomas and forward/center Andray Blatche - coupled with the youth-related lumps the Wizards took while giving hefty minutes to young players.

That might be the only positive so far for the Wizards; the thin roster gave the second-year quartet of guards Nick Young and Javaris Crittenton and forwards Dominic McGuire and Oleksiy Pecherov, along with rookie center JaVale McGee, more chances to grow.

Of course, after being thrust into larger roles for 53 games, they now have a smaller margin of error and will be expected to contribute more consistently down the stretch.

"Out of 29 games, I think just playing .500 Basketball would be great," captain Caron Butler said. "I used to say 'develop the young guys,' but now the first half of the season we spent developing the young guys. The young guys had quality minutes, quality opportunities. .. Now it's time to

ball, man It's no more excuses."

Forward Antawn Jamison said he believes the Wizards have the talent - even without Arenas and Haywood - to do better than they have, but he said maturity is key to the rest of the season.

"The most important thing is that the maturity of this team really needs to improve. We all need to take responsibility for what goes on out there on the court," Jamison said. "What would make me happy is when you lose games, you should come in here pissed off, not acting like you've won five in a row."

The Wizards did receive a positive development Monday when Blatche returned to practice. Interim coach Ed Tapscott gradually worked the center into exercises and scrimmages but said he wants to see him go through at least one more practice before allowing him to return to game action.

Stevenson, Arenas, Haywood and Thomas remain out, but the hope within the organization is that the Wizards will have a full roster at some point during the final two months of the season. Some teams would rather sit such cornerstone players until next season, but team president Ernie Grunfeld said it would be more beneficial to have the team redevelop the chemistry it had in years past than suffer through a draft-day countdown.

"Over the course of the last four or five years, we established ourselves as a winning organization, and we want to keep going that way," Grunfeld said. "Once we get everybody back, get all of our pieces together, we can be a very competitive team."

That's why, despite getting a high volume of calls regarding the trade availability of Jamison and Butler, Grunfeld has refused to make a deal. Several role players, including Thomas and guard Mike James, have been linked to trade rumors, but Grunfeld said Thursday's trade deadline likely will pass without the team making any moves.

Grunfeld will, however, spend the rest of the season evaluating the team's talent, along with seeking a new coach. Grunfeld said that situation will be "addressed at the proper time."

"Obviously as the season goes along, everybody gets judged," Grunfeld said. "We want to see continued improvement. We want to correct our mistakes and hopefully get our injured players back."

Butler also is convinced that the Wizards, with a few slight modifications, can easily rebound.

"You know what it is with the core: You get us all healthy, and we can beat anybody," he said. "Get the core together, get a couple guys. .. It's a long summer, but we can be great next season"



NBA trade deadline

Ernie Grunfeld will have until 3 p.m. to work some of his magic, hoping to swindle some poor unsuspecting NBA general manager into acquiring some of his expensive spare parts.

March 15

Kings at Wizards

The Wizards' top competition for the most draft lottery balls are the Kings (11-43), who are coming out of the break with the same number of wins and one more loss than the Wizards.

April 15

Wizards at Celtics

A trip to Boston to face the defending NBA champions in the regular-season finale should only enhance Washington's lottery chances.

Clippers at Thunder

Another contest that could go a long way in determining the Wizards' lottery fate; these two are right behind the Wizards and Kings in the race for the NBA's worst record.

May 19

NBA Draft lottery

While the Wizards are home watching the NBA playoffs, their representative will be in Secaucus, N.J., hoping the pingpong balls bounce their way after a season in which the leather ones didn't.

MINNESOTA Timberwolves at WASHINGTON Wizards

When: 7 p.m. | Where: Verizon Center | TV/radio: CSN, ESPN 980

Probable starters: Wizards - F Dominic McGuire, F Antawn Jamison, C Darius Songaila, G Caron Butler, G Mike James. Timberwolves - F Mike Miller, F Ryan Gomes, C Kevin Love, G Sebastian Telfair, G Randy Foye.

Injuries: Wizards - Out: G DeShawn Stevenson (back), G Gilbert Arenas (knee), C Andray Blatche (knee), C Etan Thomas (knee), Brendan Haywood (wrist). Timberwolves - Out: Al Jefferson (knee), Corey Brewer (knee). Questionable: Rashad McCants (illness).

Outlook: The Timberwolves were playing well in 2009 since Kevin McHale took over as coach, but that optimism faded once the team's leading scorer and rebounder, Al Jefferson, tore his right ACL early this month. Without Jefferson, Kevin Love has entered the starting lineup and played well, scoring 15 points in his last game before the All-Star break. The Wizards enter on a two-game losing streak and are a half-game behind Sacramento for the league's worst record. This will be the teams' first meeting this season.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: February 17, 2009


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