- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Sure, Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins would love for his team to get as much rest as possible this time of the year, but this is ridiculous.
When the Wizards reached the All-Star break following a victory over Cleveland on Feb.4, Collins was thankful to see them get some time off. After all, the Wizards needed it to let some wounds heal and get their heads right for a much tougher second half of the season.
However, any momentum the Wizards thought they might establish after the break was lost in a 1-2 trip that featured humiliating losses to Sacramento and Utah.
And the snowstorm that paralyzed the area Sunday and Monday conspired against the Wizards as well, not only postponing Monday's game against the Toronto Raptors but also costing the team a practice Sunday.
All of this, coupled with the schizophrenic play of the Wizards (25-27), has Collins concerned about tonight's game at New Orleans (28-26 heading into last night).
"My concern is getting that competitive feeling back once again," a visibly concerned Collins said following yesterday's practice at MCI Center. "We played Cleveland two weeks ago tonight. … In the last 14 days, we've played three games and had two practices. So basically, we've had nine days off in the last 14 days."
This is not a good thing, because with the season more than halfway over, Collins still hasn't been able to get a read on this team. Going into tonight's game the Wizards have the eighth best record in the Eastern Conference, which would qualify them for the last seed if the playoffs started today.
"Right now you've got to get yourself geared back up to play and do what's necessary to win," Collins said. "That's my biggest concern. Have we lost conditioning? What kind of edge do we have as we try to get back into the swing of things?"
Collins feels a growing sense of urgency, one he is not sure the players share.
"We have less than 60 days to go, 30 games," he said. "If the playoffs started today, we're in the playoffs. We have to start practicing like that and carrying ourselves in that manner if that's important to us. I'm concerned right now about the edge we have as a team. It's almost like the season's over, with all the time we've had off."
The Wizards will begin to get some idea of where they are at New Orleans tonight. The Hornets have underachieved by most estimates all season. And they will be in a significantly different situation than the Wizards tonight because they played Orlando last night and should be tired.
Collins hopes tonight will mark the return of leading scorer (22.5) Jerry Stackhouse, who has not played since the second half of a road loss to Milwaukee on Jan.30 because of a groin injury. Stackhouse returned from the same injury prematurely in January after sitting out four games.
Stackhouse practiced with the team yesterday but was unavailable for comment.
"He didn't look like he had the same explosiveness in practice," Collins said. "I didn't see that burst."
With or without Stackhouse, the Wizards don't want to get caught up in watching other teams that are battling them for a playoff berth. Instead, they want to make it a point to look forward, hoping to eclipse teams in front of them rather than having to rely on other teams losing games.
"You hope that they understand that," Michael Jordan said. "New Orleans is an important game for us. Even though we're in the eighth spot, anything can happen in those [remaining] 30 games. You don't want to settle for that. I'd rather keep moving up the ladder and possibly, if we could, get up into a homecourt situation. But in order to do that, we'll have to play better basketball than we've been playing."
Especially at the defensive end. Collins noted that the Wizards are 16-0 in games in which they scored 100 or more points. In games where they were held under 100, they are just 9-27.
"What does that say? For us to win, we've got to score," Collins said. "That [record] ain't going to get it done."
Notes
With the trade deadline fast approaching (3p.m. tomorrow), the Wizards don't appear likely to make a move.
"We're looking at it as this is going to be our team," Jordan said. "We've got to find a way to make this team mature quickly. I'm pretty sure that teams are going to make calls in the next couple of days. But if there is no way we can make a deal that will better this team, then it doesn't make sense to make a deal. That's the mindset of the organization."


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