- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2005

The Wizards are in the throes of a season-deflating collapse and have no readily available solutions.

They lack the interior presence of the injured Brendan Haywood, as the 76ers made all too clear in the team’s last outing on Fun Street.

The Wizards have been a fundamentally flawed defensive team all season, this reality all the more pronounced with the absence of Haywood, the 7-foot center who might contribute five or six stops a game.

Five or six stops can mean everything in outcomes decided in the single digits.

Nothing against the sweaty perseverance of either Etan Thomas or Michael Ruffin, but they are a couple of inches shy of domineering. As the wise say in the NBA, you cannot teach 7 feet.

As for Kwame Brown, he has come to be a specialist of sorts, as the reluctant object of disapproval on Fun Street. He now is inclined to play his best on the road, where the opposition’s supporters are indifferent to his No.1 place in the 2001 NBA Draft.

There is a growing suspicion that suggests the Wizards are competing with a lump in their collective throats. There are a zillion plays that contradict that easy notion.

The Wizards completed about a zillion plays against the 76ers. Meanwhile, the 76ers completed about a zillion and one plays against the Wizards, which was the difference.

The Wizards are hardly innocent victims in this late-season swoon, if only because the 76ers made their point without the services of Allen Iverson and Chris Webber.

The loss also was galling because of the career-high 44 points of Gilbert Arenas and the 13-point lead of the Wizards early in the fourth quarter.

The Wizards have come to be too reliant on playing in spurts. It worked early in the season. It is not working now against the playoff-minded teams functioning with a higher sense of purpose.

That merely reveals the prevalence of peach fuzz among the Wizards. They have never been in this season-closing position, and the opposition has been all too eager to provide them with a painful education.

The Wizards also are just beat up enough to be vulnerable to the whim of the opposition.

The NBA season is in part one of attrition, and the Wizards, for whatever reasons, have been afflicted with all manner of ailments.

Antawn Jamison came to Washington as an 82-game iron man. Now he is playing on one leg and is subject to a game-to-game watch.

Larry Hughes is just getting over being a one-armed player, which is not to say he is up two good arms yet, perhaps one and three-quarters arms.

Jarvis Hayes is probably out for the season, the playoffs included, and even the postseason is suddenly an item of concern for the Wizards, with the Nets not out of the hunt yet.

The Wizards are down to six games, four at home, with the 29-win Bucks slated to be in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood tonight.

One of the impressive qualities of the Wizards this season has been their capacity to absorb a blow, whether an injury, squandered game or rough patch. Of course, no previous bout with adversity has prepared their psyches for this one.

With the season unfinished, the Wizards still can write the ending in whatever fashion they like. They insist there is no panic in their ranks, which is good because there is plenty of panic in a region accustomed to bad basketball endings.

The Wizards could win their last six games. Or lose them all.

That is where they are as a team, unsettled and uncertain, far removed from the team that was 26-15 at the midway point of the season.

They have to know the seriousness of falling to a No. 7 or No. 8 seed, which would result in a postseason meeting against either the Heat or Pistons. Each team went 4-0 against the Wizards.

The Wizards can start on redemption tonight, if redemption is to be theirs.

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