- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 21, 2000

When Michael Jordan announced that he expected the Washington Wizards to reach the playoffs this season, it seemed Jordan, the president of basketball operations, was accentuating the positive like any good front-office type.

Months later, in fact, little appears to be different with Washington. The only teams with worse records than the Wizards are Atlanta, Chicago and Golden State. The Wizards were the last team in the league to win a home game this season, and their 3-8 record is identical to last year's after 11 games, and that team won just 29 games and finished the season 23 games out of first place.

In spite of all that, coach Leonard Hamilton remains optimistic he and his staff can achieve the results Jordan expects from the Wizards, who host the powerful Portland Trail Blazers tonight.

"It's almost an insult to me when people ask if I feel pressure from some situation other than the professional pressure that I put on myself to be successful in a situation," Hamilton said. "The pressure that I feel today is the pressure that I always feel in that I want to go out and win every game. And that's the way you should be as a coach.

"For someone to imply that someone else wants me to win more than we want to win is not the truth. What we have to worry about is the things that we can control and how we perform each night. And that's the only way I will approach it. You can't allow yourself as a coach [to let anything] interfere with anything you are trying to accomplish."

The Wizards are trying to escape the Atlantic Division cellar by winning some games. But this is a hard week for a team to be talking about putting wins together. After tonight's game against Portland which has won four games in a row over the Wizards the Wizards travel to Indiana for a Friday game against the Pacers. Washington has won just one time in its last 15 trips to Indiana.

"This is a rough, tough spot on the schedule, but I think they will step up to the challenge," Hamilton said. "But we don't even want to look past Portland. That's the game that's looking us in our face."

Portland's struggle out of the gate is almost as interesting as the hot start of the Philadelphia 76ers. After blowing a 16-point lead to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7 of the Western Conference final, the Blazers, one of the deepest teams in NBA history, added All-Star forward Shawn Kemp from Cleveland and Indiana's burly Dale Davis. Still, the Trail Blazers are just 7-5 and have the dubious distinction of being the only team to lose to 1-9 Atlanta.

Nonetheless, the Blazers present many obstacles the Wizards have not yet seen. For starters, they can and will throw 6-foot-7 Scottie Pippen in the backcourt along with 6-8 Steve Smith. Also, 6-11 former Wizard Rasheed Wallace, last year a Western Conference All-Star, will see time at all three frontcourt positions.

"There's no question that they are one of the more talented teams in the NBA and they are very capable," Hamilton said. "They are somewhat of a new team because of the additions they made, but in terms of their reputation and what they have been able to do in the past they're very formidable. I mean, they've taken superstars from other teams, and they've got them coming off the bench.

"But that's not how we have to look at it. We are who we are, and what they have is not something you can worry about. We can't be worried about how much talent they have. All we can be concerned with is making sure that we play at or above our capabilities."

Note Following yesterday's practice, Wizards guards Richard Hamilton and Chris Whitney headed to the Calvary Food Bank at 600 W Street NE and handed out 400 Thanksgiving baskets to the less fortunate. Whitney and Hamilton volunteered their time and paid for baskets each containing a large turkey.

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