To the Washington Wizards, the importance of tonight's home game against Western Conference force Dallas all depends on who is doing the talking.
Coach Eddie Jordan sees the game with the streaking Mavericks -- winners of 12 straight and easily the hottest team in the league -- as an opportunity to wash away the lingering bad taste following his team's recent uninspiring performances.
"That's a good team to get a win off of," Jordan said moments after the Wizards (6-10) eclipsed the franchise record for road losses at the start of the season with eight via a 112-94 defeat at Chicago on Saturday night. "We've been playing OK at home, not great. We need to play better. But what better opportunity than to beat probably the best team in the NBA right now?"
While Jordan appeared eager to play Dallas, reserve center Brendan Haywood took more of a long-term view.
"One win doesn't change anything; one loss doesn't change anything," Haywood said. "We have to change our mind-set and the way we play. If we do that, we'll be fine -- win, lose or draw against Dallas. But we can't do what we did against the Bulls. We got into a brand of selfish basketball. We didn't share the ball the way we needed to. You see what happens when we do that."
Dallas, the defending Western Conference champion, lost its first four games, but coach Avery Johnson's team hasn't lost since.
"That's a very good team that's coming to our place," said Washington forward Caron Butler, who notched his team-leading seventh double-double of the season with 21 points and 10 rebounds vs. Chicago. "But we have to come to play. Right now we're being tested, and it's rough. We have to get through this adversity we're going through."
The Mavericks come to Verizon Center having won their last six games against the Wizards and 13 of 16. And in recent years no team has done a better job of exposing the Wizards' chronically bad defense: Dallas is averaging 115 points for its last five games against Washington. In their most recent meeting Nov. 21 at Dallas, the Mavericks handed the Wizards their worst beating of the season 107-80.
That game, perhaps more than any other this season, typified the inconsistency of the Wizards. The game was tied 51-51 at halftime, but the Mavericks dominated the second half and extended their winning streak to seven games. Five wins later, Dallas clearly is making another run for the title that many -- not just attention-starved owner Mark Cuban -- believe it let slip away against Miami in June.
Beating Dallas "could change our season," Butler said. "We get a win here, and it could boost our confidence for the rest of the season. But first we've got to continue to trust the system and stay unified, get through this adversity. That's first."
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