- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 11, 2003

The Wizards were feeling pretty good about themselves going into last night's game against the Golden State Warriors at MCI Center, and they should have. You win five straight games, and it warrants feeling good. If you're the Wizards and you've won five straight, well, it nearly qualifies as some sort of out-of-body experience.

But it was a deceptive winning streak. I know, a win is a win is a win, but for a good team, a five-game winning streak should feed upon itself. It should build some momentum and help a team grow stronger.

The Wizards didn't exactly have the look of a team growing stronger despite the five straight victories. They looked more like a team treading water enough to stay afloat but one big wave from going under again.

Last night the water started rising. Golden State stopped the winning streak with a 104-99 win over Washington, putting the Wizards back at .500 (18-18) treading water.

In Thursday's 101-98 win over Chicago at home, the Wizards gave away the first half, down 59-48 after the second quarter. They came back to dominate the third quarter 36-14 but then lost the fourth quarter 25-17, even though they still won the game.

The Wizards have the potential to be a decent team, even a playoff team. But they are not good enough to give away a half even to a bad team and expect to turn it on in the second half and win. They can't turn it on and off. This is a team that is still feeling its away around, looking for the switch, sometimes finding it and sometimes not.

Last night they were stumbling around again, particularly in the first half, and they shouldn't have been. The Wizards had a five-game winning streak and were playing a team with a 14-20 record that has lost more often than not when it has come to Washington with a record of 28-46 before last night. The lights should have been on for the Wizards against the Warriors from the first minute of the game, although after the game Wizards coach Doug Collins insisted that the Warriors were better than their record showed.

"They are a good team," he said. "They just came in and beat us."

Still, they were a losing team playing on the road against a team that had won five straight games. Yet at the end of the first half, the Wizards barely led 51-49, and it was easy to see why the Warriors who were outshot 49 percent to 42 percent by the Wizards in the half were staying so close. The Warriors played with the intensity of a team feeling good about itself, outrebounding Washington 26-19. And of those 26 rebounds by Golden State, 13 came the hard way off the offensive glass. The Wizards had just six offensive rebounds, led (and I use the team "led" loosely) by Brendan Haywood's three. He must have considered getting 50 percent of his team's offensive rebounds a pretty good half because he took a vacation at the other end with just one rebound for a total of four in 16 minutes.

It didn't get much better in the second half as Golden State, led by Troy Murphy's 17 rebounds (six offensive), outrebounded Washington 10-4 on the offensive boards and 23-10 overall for those second-chance shots.

The Wizards are not good enough for the big men to keep coming up small.

"It kills you when you play good offense and can't rebound the ball," Collins said. "It's a backbreaker."

The run by the Wizards was powered by some of the veterans who can find the switches in their sleep Michael Jordan and Jerry Stackhouse and newcomers like Larry Hughes. It won't be enough to sustain whatever momentum they had hoped to gain unless the other players step up and play consistently hard for an entire game, because for this team, there is a very thin line that separates a five-game winning streak from a five-game losing streak.

You can only tread water for so long. Sooner or later, you sink or you swim.

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