- The Washington Times - Friday, December 17, 1999

Most opponents do what they want against the Wizards.

Opponents point out their favorite spots on the floor, and the Wizards take a mop to those spots to make certain the traction is good. Opponents show an elbow or a hip, and the Wizards usually express no objections. The Wizards are easy. They are one of the NBA’s good-time teams.

What, the Wizards get mad at an opponent? Abe Pollin’s checks are good, win or lose, and being required to play 82 games a season is not such an arduous assignment, not when you consider all the 9-to-5 alternatives in the real world.

The Wizards only get mad if you call them “soft,” as coach Gar Heard did.

The Wizards can accept a lot of things. They can accept Karl Malone’s kung fu-like tactics. He might crack you in the head with an elbow or kick you when you are down or throw his body at you. The Wizards do not mind. They can accept being in the fetal position when Malone is in the building.

But the Wizards cannot accept being labeled “soft.” Are you kidding? How dare you? Take it back.

Maybe the Wizards are merely an underachieving basketball team, as their record indicates (7-17 after last night’s victory against the Nets).

Maybe Heard is not the answer. But he is not the problem either. He does not resort to kung fu on the Wizards. He does not instruct the Wizards to disappear at certain points in the game. Heard merely asks the Wizards to play with a sense of purpose and resolve each game. Obviously, this is too much to ask.

Ike Austin continues to cash Pollin’s checks, although, apparently, under protest. He questions the management skills of Pollin and the rest of the team’s higher-ups. He may have a point. They did trade for him.

Austin, of course, could make everyone look smarter if he was averaging more than 8.9 points and 6.2 rebounds as a starter.

But Austin leaves his production out of it. He may not be the toughest center around, but he knows good management when he sees it. He has had practice at it. He suggested the management team in Orlando was clueless as well and questioned Chuck Daly’s ability to scribble plays.

Austin, it seems, wants to wear a suit, not short pants, which perhaps explains his reluctance to assert himself underneath the basket.

Juwan Howard would prefer to play power forward, not small forward, and oddly enough, he made this point after grabbing only one rebound in 30 minutes against the Jazz. To get only one rebound in 30 minutes, you almost have to run from the ball, especially if you are a 6-foot-9 person with two arms.

Power forward is a man’s position, and to play a man’s position, you have to be willing to trade blows with the leading power forward in the NBA. Malone is not the most graceful player around, but he will hurt you, and hurt you bad if you try to be a man in his vicinity.

The Wizards appear confused. They are worried about what their coach says in the newspapers instead of what is being done to them on the court.

Rod Strickland is unhappy with Heard on a number of levels. Strickland is not at his best around authority figures, and Heard is from the one-rule-fits-all coaching school. Strickland sometimes has transportation problems, legal problems and communication problems, so you must consider the source when he has a problem with Heard.

Sometimes, no matter who says what, the game is no more complex than one guy wanting the ball more than the other guy.

The Wizards could help their cause considerably if they were committed to playing 48 minutes each game instead of 30 or 35 minutes. It is just a thought, but they probably should concern themselves with the things they can control, like passing and shooting the ball, rebounding and defense.

Understandably, the Wizards can’t believe they are this anemic, so they tell themselves it is the coaching, the fans, management and possibly even Tony Cheng.

But it is none of those things. It is about the Wizards sustaining their effort, energy and enthusiasm. It also is about the leading players. They can gripe and moan the rest of the season or they can start addressing their deficiencies on the court.

It is their call, their team, their mess.

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