- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2005

The fourth quarter hasn’t been kind to the Washington Wizards in their drive for the playoffs.

The Wizards (41-35), on a season-high, five-game losing streak that has dropped them from the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference to the sixth in a little more than a week, simply have been outplayed down the stretch in those losses.

• The Indiana Pacers handed the Wizards a 79-76 setback April 3 when they outscored Washington 26-17 in the fourth quarter.

• Boston blew a 16-point lead and fell behind 92-91 with 7:36 to play Tuesday. But the Celtics, who made 60 percent of their shots in the fourth, closed with a 25-16 run to win 116-108.

• The Detroit Pistons, who never trailed and led by as many as 22 points, made 57 percent of their shots in the fourth quarter to down the Wizards 105-93 on Wednesday.

• Philadelphia, playing without league-leading scorer Allen Iverson and Chris Webber, blew a 21-point lead and trailed by 13 points with 10:33 left in the game Saturday. But the 76ers closed with a 32-13 run to win 112-106, converting 66.7 percent of their shots in the fourth.

While their problems have been more pronounced in the last five games, the Wizards’ late-game struggles have been notable even in games they won. For instance, in their 111-102 win at Orlando on April 1, the Wizards lacked intensity throughout, almost costing them the game.

Washington blew a 25-point lead that night, wilting under a fullcourt press in the fourth that produced a 23-4 run and cut the lead to 97-92. Luckily for Washington, Gilbert Arenas hit some big shots late to preserve the victory, in which the Wizards shot just 5-for-19 from the floor in the final quarter.

While poor defense by the Wizards and high shooting percentages by their opponents have been common threads — Washington, in fact, has been a subpar defensive team all season — another issue is experience. Only Antawn Jamison, who was with the Dallas Mavericks, participated in the playoffs last season.

“The teams we are playing are all fighting for spots,” Jamison said. “If you give a team a 15- or 20-point cushion in the first half, they are going to find a way to withstand the run and find a way to win.

“But I don’t think we realize what it takes to get it done in April and going into May. It’s definitely new for us. I think now we understand what it takes when you play teams like Indiana, Boston and Detroit in April because these teams have been there and done that. But we have to take it to another level and be more mentally focused.”

Jamison sees similarities between the Wizards and the young Chicago Bulls, winners of 12 of their last 13 games. The big difference, however, is that the fourth-place Bulls are a superior defensive team.

“We haven’t found a way to get on one accord and get it done, and we’re not getting it done when it counts,” Jamison said.

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