SAN ANTONIO Because Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins honestly assesses which games his team can win or lose, the sweat that was evident on his face and coming through his suit Saturday night was understandable.
From the start, beating the San Antonio Spurs in their building did not qualify as probable.
But as the Wizards ensnared Tim Duncan in a three-foul web before the end of the first quarter and went on to build a 14-point lead, Saturday night’s game which they eventually lost had the makings of an upset that would have qualified as their biggest victory of the season.
It was a hard loss to take, considering the Wizards already are jostling with other teams that they will in all likelihood be slugging it out with for lower playoff seeds.
As far as Collins is concerned, the Wizards have to go out and beat the teams they are supposed to beat.
“I think that this time for us is to stay in it, win some games, and stay attached to where we don’t dig ourselves a hole,” Collins said. “I mean, our schedule’s brutal. Most every team we’re playing is a playoff team, and not only a playoff team but a real good playoff team.”
This was not the case in recent days as the Wizards dispatched teams like Toronto, Atlanta and Memphis. If the Wizards have an eye on the playoffs, those are the victories they had to get.
But Collins’ characterization of the Wizards’ schedule as brutal is appropriate. On the heels of facing San Antonio and reigning MVP Tim Duncan, tonight they find themselves trying to beat the Mavericks (22-4) in Dallas.
Washington’s schedule doesn’t let up much upon its return east. After Christmas they will face the revenge-minded Detroit Pistons one of just three teams the Wizards have beaten with a .500 or better record and then play host to Atlanta, which no doubt knows the importance of avenging a home loss against a team with a similar record.
But the Wizards don’t want to look that far down the road. They’d rather stay focused on their next opponent.
Last season in their only visit to Dallas, the Wizards defeated the Mavericks, who were without injured All-Star Dirk Nowitzki. In that game, center Brendan Haywood had the most efficient offensive night of his career, scoring 19 points on 8-for-9 shooting.
Haywood knows this Mavericks team is playing far better than last season’s. And though the game appears a likely loss before the Wizards even take the court, Haywood is not conceding anything.
“They’re having a great season; they’re hitting on all cylinders,” Haywood said. “But we had a chance to win a big game [Saturday] and we let it slip out of our hands. That would have stretched our winning streak to four games. Nobody expects us to win this game, so this is a great opportunity.”
Note Rookie guard Juan Dixon is still at least two weeks away from being ready to return. Dixon suffered a sprained left elbow and has been on the injured list since Dec.2.