In the next 41, East should be one wild ride

The Wizards are either in a half-full or half-empty state, depending on the statistical barometer, their season seemingly destined to be played on the edge.

It is true the Wizards have forged a 20-8 record since starting the season at 4-9.

It also is true the Wizards have broken into the top tier of the egalitarian Eastern Conference.

Yet their margin for error remains slight, as their 1.0 point differential attests. No lead is safe with the Wizards, not even a 21-point lead in the third quarter against the helpless Celtics.

Their 7-13 record on the road is a concern as well.

Yet no one can criticize the results after 41 games, as the team’s president of basketball operations noted yesterday.

“We have one of the top two records in the East, so we have to feel good about that,” Ernie Grunfeld said. “And we have shown that when we play up to our abilities, we can play with anybody. Now we have to do it on a consistent basis.”

The Wizards have overcome three telling points in the season: an abysmal November that was threatening to undermine the season, a four-game West Coast trip in December that resulted in three victories, two in overtime, and a convincing victory in Orlando last Friday, with supremacy in the Southeast Division at stake.

The Wizards, for whatever reasons, usually find Orlando to be an inhospitable venue, dating to two seasons ago, when Gilbert Arenas inexplicably missed five of seven free throw attempts in the final 2:02 of a disappointing loss.

As much as the Wizards like where they are in the conference, it is partly because of the absence of a genuinely elite team.

The Pistons have slipped appreciably because of the departure of Ben Wallace, and Shaquille O’Neal and the Heat are endeavoring to expose the regular season as a waste of time.

The Wizards are actually two games behind where they were after 41 games two seasons ago, although perception suggests otherwise.

As Arenas has discovered, perception cuts a lot of different ways.

He finally is receiving the national acclaim in a season that, statistically, is not significantly different from last season.

In fact, Arenas possibly was more consistent last season, less prone to fitful shooting games following a scoring binge.

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