- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2006

PHILADELPHIA — At about 11 last night, the battered and bruised Washington Wizards boarded a plane at Philadelphia International Airport and headed to Milwaukee for a potential playoff-clinching game against the Bucks.

And the T-shirts no doubt were on the plane with them.

The Wizards traveled here planning to beat the 76ers and unveil shirts proudly announcing their second straight trip to the playoffs, an accomplishment the franchise hasn’t achieved since it made five consecutive trips from 1984 to 1988.

But news of the packed shirts only served to rile up the 76ers, who defeated the Wizards 105-97 before 17,367 at Wachovia Center.

“We showed a lot of character being that those guys already had their playoff shirts made up and wanted to wear them after the game,” said Allen Iverson, who finished the game with 26 points and a season-high 15 assists, just two less than the Wizards. “We didn’t give them a chance to do that. Now they have to do that somewhere else. We had an extra incentive to beat them, and that gave us a great lift.”

The Wizards (39-38) will have a better chance of donning those shirts once they get Caron Butler (thumb) and Etan Thomas (back) back in the starting lineup. Butler has missed three games, all losses, and Thomas the last two. Both could return tomorrow night, when the Wizards, seeded fifth and ahead of the Bucks by two games in the Eastern Conference, play the first of two games against Milwaukee (37-40) in the final week of the regular season.

Wasted in last night’s loss were Jamison’s season-high 37 points. The Wizards also got 32 points from Gilbert Arenas despite his bad back, and Jared Jeffries chipped in a season-high 16.

However, the bench scoring was atrocious. Philadelphia’s subs outscored Washington’s backups 27-5.

Despite the loss, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said two wins on this road trip, which includes a visit to Chicago on Friday, are the goal.

“I told them that going 2-1 on the road trip isn’t bad,” Jordan said. “We’re just going to correct some mistakes, go to practice and wipe it off. You can’t get your head down. It’s a war every night, and you got to bounce back.”

The 76ers are more desperate than the Wizards, who don’t want to slip out of the No. 5 spot.

Without the injured Chris Webber in the lineup, the Sixers — underachievers all season — got some big games from other guys. In Webber’s place, Steven Hunter, who the Sixers tried to trade earlier in the season, dominated inside and finished with a career-high 20 points. They also got 14 rebounds and four blocks out of center Samuel Dalembert.

Starting in place of Thomas, Brendan Haywood had nine rebounds and a pair of blocks for the Wizards. However, he was just 1-for-5 from the floor for three points.

Washington’s Antonio Daniels admitted he was uncomfortable in the starting lineup for Butler last night, and it showed. After going for a season-high 25 in a loss at Miami, Daniels finished with just four points on 2-for-11 shooting and was hit with a technical late in the game.

The Wizards quickly fell behind by 10 when Iverson sank a pair of free throws with 3:51 to play in the first quarter. Going into the second, they still trailed by eight, but Jamison and Arenas took over for the Wizards in the next 12 minutes.

In the team’s previous three games, Jamison had made just 19 of 65 shots. But last night he scored 16 in the second quarter and 24 in the first half.

With Washington behind 30-19 early in the second quarter, Arenas and Jamison combined to score all but four of the Wizards’ next 31 points. That was part of a 31-14 Washington run that gave the Wizards a 50-44 lead with a little more than three minutes to play in the half.

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