- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2003

When a team plays poorly, it is often hard, if not impossible, for the coach to get any sleep. He tosses, he turns, he agonizes.
It's pretty safe to assume that Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins did all of the above, but that still didn't give him the catharsis he sought following the Wizards' pathetic showing Tuesday night in an 84-75 loss to a Toronto team partially made up of players who weren't in the NBA at the start of the week.
"We came in this morning, and I put some game tape on. We watched some game tape, and then basically I told them I'd see them tomorrow at shootaround," Collins said. "So a lot of them worked out on their own afterwards. I just felt that we appeared to be very tired and we didn't have a lot of energy. I thought maybe if our guys got away, maybe they'd come back with some more energy."
One thing they won't come back with is Jerry Stackhouse, who will be out for at three more games with his injured left groin. But the Wizards (19-19) already knew that. What they don't seem to know from the coach on down is what type of effort they will come back with tonight in a crucial Eastern Conference game against Orlando (20-20) at MCI Center.
The Wizards were deep yesterday in the kind of gloom not usually associated with a team that has won six of its last eight games. But perhaps that was to be expected after their mauling by a team that is more concerned with the LeBron James sweepstakes than with players who have spent much the season in the NBDL playing for teams with such names as the North Charleston Lowgators and Mobile Revelers.
At the end of the season, the loss to Toronto could be the difference between Washington being first-round fodder for New Jersey or Indiana or playing host to first-round games provided the Wizards make the playoffs. It joined losses to Golden State over the weekend and perhaps the lowlight of the season an 85-74 loss at Memphis that rescued the Grizzlies from an 0-14 start as utterly disastrous outings.
"Those three losses could easily come back and haunt us," Michael Jordan said. "The Laker win could give us some relief in a sense. Those are the type of situations where we gave one back to the course. Now we've got to go out and make a birdie somewhere to even it out by winning a game no one expects us to win. I think we're capable of doing it. We just have to stay connected."
Veteran forward Charles Oakley agreed, saying, "Losses like this can come back to hurt you in a playoff race. We've got to beat these [poor] teams."
Tonight Washington faces a team that beats it regularly; Orlando has won 16 of the last 21 meetings. And the Wizards seemed almost unwilling to consider that they will be without Stackhouse tonight against Tracy McGrady and the Magic.
Had they beaten the Raptors, the Wizards would be fifth in the East. Instead, they have the eighth-best record in the conference, right behind the Magic (20-20). The loss was inexcusable, even without Stackhouse.
"We had 11 guys, they had eight, so we still should have won the game," Oakley said. "Stack is our leading scorer, but we are supposed to be a developing team. We're supposed to have enough talent. We play 10 or 11 guys a night, so [the loss of] one guy shouldn't hurt us. Maybe if we were playing a team over .500, yeah. But that team we played last night was probably .250 or .300, so Stack shouldn't have come into it."
Oakley was asked if the Wizards might have gotten full of themselves during their five-game winning streak. His reply indicated there was no reason for that because of the weak conference they're in.
"It's not really hard to be in the middle of the pack," Oakley said. "If we were in the West, we probably wouldn't be in the pack. We'd be in the backyard somewhere with the dogs and can't get in the house. In the East, we've got a chance to find and open the back door so you can roam through the house. If we want to be one of those dogs in the house, we've got to step it up and start biting somebody."


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