- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

The Wizards should not have won the game on Fun Street yesterday.

They played with no energy, no resolve and no passion until the last several minutes of the contest. They played as if all they had to do was show up at the appointed hour, and the depleted expansion team from Charlotte, N.C., would roll over in fear of the playoff-bound hosts.

But the 17-win Bobcats showed no fear. They refused to accept the script. They ignored the absences of Emeka Okafor and Primoz Brezec, their two best players, and led most of the second half. They also ignored their lack of size.

This appeared to be the junior varsity going against the varsity. The Bobcats put a bunch of 4-foot guys on the floor, and the post players of the Wizards chose not to respond with conviction.

Brendan Haywood, Etan Thomas and Kwame Brown combined for 14 points against a bunch of 4-foot guys. And it was not as if the Wizards did not try exploit their size advantage.

But first you have to catch the ball, and that sometimes is an adventure with the post players of the Wizards. And then you have to make a move with your back to the basket, and that sometimes is an adventure as well, especially with Thomas.

Thomas starts stepping this way and that way — rocking all over the place to orchestrate an up-and-under maneuver — and then acts surprised after the referee whistles him for a traveling violation.

Haywood should have had his way with Melvin Ely, who was giving up several inches and has the shoulders of a barnyard chicken. It was not to be. It was not to be with any of the post players of the Wizards, and not to dip into the dark recesses of Brown’s fragile psyche. The less said there, the better.

The cause of the Bobcats was abetted by the listless defensive commitment of the Wizards. The Bobcats were granted a high number of open looks at the basket in the 15-to-17-foot range, and they knocked down these shots with consistency.

After 80 games, the Wizards still do not seem to understand the value of sticking a hand in a shooter’s face. The way the Wizards sometimes rotate on defense — between barely and not at all — a wheelchair basketball team could score 100 points on them.

This attitude could cost the Wizards dearly in the playoffs. Teams lock down on defense in the playoffs. An 11-point deficit is a whole lot more difficult to overcome in the playoffs than in a regular-season game against an expansion team that has won only four road games this season.

The Wizards trailed by 11 points after Jason Hart’s 17-footer with 7:13 left. As always, though, the impressive offensive efforts of Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes and Antawn Jamison were able to atone for the team’s glaring deficiencies on defense.

Yet the Wizards still needed several fortuitous circumstances to close this one out at the end. They needed the referees to swallow their whistles, as the Wizards reverted to their steal mode. And they needed a break from the heavens above, as Brevin Knight poked the ball from behind a dribbling Hughes, only to see it wind up in the hands of Jamison filling a lane on the right side of the basket.

Jamison converted the game-winning layup with 1.3 seconds left, and so an unforgivable loss was avoided.

“It’s almost like the basketball gods were looking out after us,” coach Eddie Jordan said.

Jordan mostly picked the positives out of the affair, although he had to concede the obvious: A couple of times, one of the Bobcats would come off a screen and see no one in his vicinity after catching the pass, so he would check the barometric pressure, wave to friends in the stands and then finally release an unimpeded shot.

Recently, Arenas suggested the Wizards would commit to defense like they have not done this season once the playoffs were under way.

To which can be said: Hmm. Hmm. Hmm.

Tell you this: The Wizards will not get away with this kind of uneven effort in the playoffs.

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