- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2006

After front-runners Detroit and Miami in the NBA’s Eastern Conference standings, just 21/2 games separate New Jersey, which is in line for the third seed, from eighth-place Milwaukee. As a result, with less than seven weeks remaining in the regular season, there is no room for error for teams such as the Washington Wizards.

That is why Wizards coach Eddie Jordan and captain Antawn Jamison want the team to eliminate — right now — its protracted whining and complaining to referees late in games and remain focused. Both agree the habit is hurting the Wizards (29-27), who have given up 14-point leads in back-to-back losses to Memphis and most recently to Indiana (29-25) at home on Wednesday. The latest loss cost the Wizards the tie-breaker advantage should both teams finish with identical records.

“There are certain calls that we think should go our way; we’re all human,” Jamison said yesterday. “There are certain calls that we think should go our way, but we’re biased.

“But right now things are too close,” Jamison continued, acknowledging the tight playoff race. “We are at the point in our season where every single game is huge for us and for the teams we’re playing. But getting into it with the refs is not the answer. After it’s done you have to leave it alone. If you think he made a bad call, he probably knows it. Nine out of 10 times they know when they’ve made a mistake. But we’re a veteran team. You don’t want to make the mistake of drilling them over and over about it.”

The Wizards play another huge game today at Philadelphia (29-28), a team they have embarrassed twice at MCI Center and lead by just a half-game in the standings.

While every game is filled with calls that can go either way, the more plausible reason for the Wizards’ recent losses is that they simply haven’t played as well as their opponents when the outcome was still hanging in the balance.

The Pacers made all 26 of their free throws and outscored the Wizards 55-40 in the second half. And in Memphis, the Wizards couldn’t slow Pau Gasol, who finished with a career-high 39 points, nor could they stop the rest of his teammates in the second half, when the Grizzlies outscored them 67-46.

In recent games, Jordan has mentioned his team’s preoccupation with the officials. He sees that as taking away from the Wizards’ concentration level. But it isn’t the reason why Washington has lost in its past seven games to Dallas, New Orleans, the Grizzlies and Pacers.

“We’ve seen three games now where we’ve had a significant lead and in the third quarter the same demons are coming up,” Jordan said. “People are bullying us in the paint. We’re being distracted and we’re not playing with a high enough energy level.

“We’ve had the lead coming down the stretch at Dallas and New Orleans and a lack of focus has cost us.”

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