Pressure mounts for ailing Wizards

If the Washington Wizards appear tight, there is good reason.

Remove two All-Stars from any NBA team — especially one fighting for the playoffs — and easy, runaway victories become a thing of the past.

One win from reaching the playoffs for a third straight season, a feat last accomplished in 1988, the Wizards are under pressure to show they can win without Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler.

“When you get in a situation where someone says you need one win — one anything — it’s hard to do,” said guard DeShawn Stevenson, who scored 13 points Friday in the Wizards’ fourth straight loss. “I think we just need to sit back, relax. We’ve got a black cloud hanging over us, a serious black cloud this month. But we’ll get one.”

Stevenson said pressure is coming from both inside and outside the team.

“I think we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves,” Stevenson said. “I think everyone is putting too much pressure on. You can tell just by the atmosphere. It’s pretty tight right now, and it’s going to be like that until we get a win.”

The Wizards haven’t won since a 121-107 victory at Milwaukee on April 1, when Butler broke his right hand. Since then, they have lost back-to-back games to Charlotte, lost by five to Cleveland at home Friday and by six in overtime at New Jersey on Saturday.

Jason Kidd (10 points, 18 assists, 16 rebounds) and Vince Carter (46 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists) each had triple-doubles Saturday, the first teammates to do so since Chicago’s Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in 1989.

The injury-depleted Wizards (39-37) stayed close, receiving a season-high 37 points from Antawn Jamison and a career-high 29 from Jarvis Hayes. Jamison hit a 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left to send the game to overtime.

But New Jersey scored the first eight points in overtime to take the win and pull within three games of Washington for the Eastern Conference’s No. 6 seed.

Hayes, who has been starting in Butler’s place, was dejected despite his career high. He said the Wizards are feeling pressure to clinch.

“It’s tight. It’s tight around here,” Hayes said. “Any time you miss two guys like Gil and Caron, they mean so much to this team. We’ve just got to relax a little bit more and get that one win.”

Looking at the schedule certainly won’t help anxiety. The Wizards don’t play again until tomorrow (at home against New Jersey). They face Southeast Division-leading Miami the next night, then play at Atlanta, at home against Chicago and Orlando and finish the regular season at Indiana on April 18.

But the Wizards aren’t looking that far in the future.

“Everybody in this team has pride and all the confidence that we can not only win some games but that once the playoffs get started we have an opportunity to win a series,” Jamison said. “But in order for us to do that we have to get that win. It’s frustrating because you know you’re right there as far as getting the effort, pulling for your teammates, doing the things we need to win. We’re just coming up a little short right now.”

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