- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2000

Last year for the Washington Wizards, home was where the boos, ridicule and scorn were.

The Wizards could go on the road, where they should have been viewed as the enemy, and players like Juwan Howard and Rod Strickland would receive a smattering of cheers.

This was not the case at MCI Center, where the Wizards had a record of 17-24. Often they were so roundly booed that Washington players sarcastically encouraged fans to boo and hiss even harder.

But with the Patrick Ewing-less New York Knicks coming to town for the team's home opener tonight, the 1-1 Wizards hope to win the favor of their fans early.

"In the past, there have always been a lot of New York fans that live in the D.C. area," Howard said. "We've got to find a way to put the momentum in our favor, and that's by playing well at the very start."

Howard does not know what to expect from the home crowd tonight. The game is expected to be a sellout, and Howard and his teammates hope they will have the full support of the fans behind them.

"There have been times, as we all know, when the fans have gotten on us and been real tough," Howard continued. "Maybe this time things will be different."

The Wizards had an abbreviated practice yesterday that consisted mostly of players receiving treatment and watching film. It was somewhat of a reward from coach Leonard Hamilton for the way they played the night before in the second game of back-to-backs against Orlando and Charlotte. After a tough loss to the Magic, the Wizards rebounded with a strong effort in a 95-77 win at Charlotte. Last year in the second game of back-to-backs, the Wizards were just 2-15.

"You have to find a way to enjoy a victory like that," Hamilton said. "But it's more important that we find a way to be good on a consistent basis."

Consistency is a hallmark of good teams. And even in the early stages of this season, the Wizards have seen how hard it is to attain.

In the loss at Orlando, Washington turned over the basketball 16 times in the first half on the way to 27 for the game. Still, the Wizards were in the game until the late stages of the fourth quarter before a spree by Tracy McGrady and those turnovers caught up with them.

Washington's carelessness with the ball carried over into their rout of the Hornets with the Wizards turning it over 13 times before halftime. But in the second half, they added just six.

Also, one night after making fewer than 40 percent of their shots from the floor, the Wizards bounced back to hit 50 percent.

"We're trying to learn that we can win," point guard Strickland said. "That's why we don't want to get off to a bad start. That's why a game like this is important to us. We have to bring the same type of energy that we had against Charlotte. If we keep doing that, we will build some confidence."

Strickland then looked up, almost as if he had forgotten something, laughed, and added, "To be back home, we want to get these guys on our side. So it's important to play well."

Strickland acknowledged that MCI Center fans have had a right to be hard on the team in the past, especially when things have gone badly on the floor. And last year that was most of the time.

"It's rough, but that comes with the territory," Strickland said. "You just deal with it. But if we play hard, I know they'll be there for us."

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