- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003

DALLAS — At certain times in an NBA season struggling teams have to forget about being cautious.

Following the Washington Wizards’ 97-72 rout by the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday — their most one-sided loss of the season — point guard Chris Whitney wasn’t concerned about firing up the team’s next opponent.

“We’re supposed to beat a team like Memphis [tomorrow night],” said Whitney. “We’re on a slide right now, so I think Friday is a must win.”

It would appear that way, regardless of whether the Grizzlies come out snarling because of Whitney’s disdain. Despite losing five of their last six games and nine of their last 12, the Wizards (6-11) are not out of the playoff hunt because they play in the weak Atlantic Division where no team has a winning record.

Yet after starting 3-2, the Wizards have come undone. Without Jerry Stackhouse (knee surgery), they are also adapting to life without point guard Gilbert Arenas (abdominal strain), who, like Stackhouse, might not return until next month.

Victories were scarce with Arenas in the lineup, but recently have been almost impossible. Except for last week’s 81-80 victory over highly dysfunctional Portland, Washington would have a seven-game losing streak.

The Wizards are playing poor defense, surrendering a season-high 120 points Nov.26 against the Los Angeles Lakers, and their offense has been so bad that in the last five games they have twice broken a 42-year-old franchise record for fewest points in a half. They scored 24 in the first half in an 88-85 loss to Seattle, and 23 in the second half Saturday in a home loss to Detroit.

No wonder some other Wizards feel the same as Whitney.

“You’ve got to stop the bleeding somewhere,” center Brendan Haywood said, looking toward tomorrow’s game. “After Memphis, we’ve got Milwaukee and Indiana, so our schedule doesn’t get any easier.”

At least the Wizards aren’t using their injuries as an excuse. Power forward Christian Laettner noted that Dallas, which lost to the Wizards earlier when the Mavericks didn’t have starting point guard Steve Nash, hammered them Tuesday without Dirk Nowitzki in the lineup.

“We’re still a professional team, and we’ve got to play the right way,” Laettner said. “We’ve got to play better team defense and better team offense. It doesn’t matter that your stars aren’t playing. You should still have a competitive game.”

Whitney was a member of the 2000-01 Wizards who lost a franchise-record 63 games. Seventeen games into that season, Washington was 4-13 — only two games worse than now. He doesn’t believe this team will play that badly all season, and he doesn’t want to see his teammates grow accustomed to doing so.

“You can’t get used to losing,” Whitney said. “When that happens, people go into games thinking selfishly, offensively and defensively. That’s when guys start to go out and get satisfied by just getting their numbers and start thinking that’s it’s all about you. But I don’t think we have that makeup in this locker room. I think the coaching staff will get us ready to play, and we’ll go out there and present our good stuff.”

The sooner the better.

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