- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

It was as telling and perhaps as foreboding a statement as Washington Wizards scoring leader Jerry Stackhouse could muster.

"He's got guys scared of him," Stackhouse said after watching Detroit center Ben Wallace grab 44 rebounds in two games against the Wizards. "Maybe it's his hair."

Stackhouse made his amusing remarks following the Pistons' 94-90 overtime victory against the Wizards on Tuesday. Wallace boasts an impressively chiseled physique and wears perhaps the league's most outlandish 'fro.

Actually, though, there was nothing funny about it. Stackhouse was referring to how Wallace had his way almost at will against the Wizards' frontline twice in four days while basically willing the Pistons to two victories.

No matter who the Wizards assigned to keep him off the boards, Wallace still dominated because of many factors, one of them certainly being heart.

Meanwhile, veteran forward Charles Oakley said some Wizards are simply taking the team's final playoff push and the game of basketball in general too lightly for his liking.

"Everybody is coming to games in sweat suits all casual, in blue jeans," Oakley said. "They don't respect the game."

By losing to Detroit, the Wizards (32-35 and losers of six of their last nine games) squandered a chance to build momentum for a six-game, 10-day West Coast trip beginning tomorrow night in Phoenix that almost certainly will determine whether they make the playoffs for just the second time in 14 seasons.

The Wizards are currently in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. The top eight teams make the playoffs.

And this is not a good time for Washington to be going out west. For further evidence, look no further than the games against the Pistons.

Detroit's victory Tuesday ended a seven-game road losing streak for the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference. Of those seven losses, six came against Western teams. Four of those teams Golden State, Portland, the Los Angeles Lakers and Seattle lie in wait for the Wizards over the next week and a half.

So if some Wizards are playing scared, as Stackhouse suggested, they had better snap out of it before confronting a Phoenix team battling for the last playoff spot in the West.

Oakley senses something even worse than fear in the Wizards' locker room. The veteran of 17 seasons and 144 playoff games sees a team that is still playing with a me-first attitude too late in the season.

"Sometimes after games we spend too much time looking at the stat sheets," Oakley said. "Sometimes the stat sheet has nothing to do with the game. Sometimes it's about what guys can do on the court, the little things that make other guys better."

Although he didn't mention anyone by name, Oakley indicated he did not see his teammates playing with the requisite toughness, such as making the hard foul when it has to be made. This has been a complaint by the coaching staff all season.

"You need guys out there that understand the game," Oakley said. "It's good being young and having athleticism. But [Tuesday] was like a throwback game. You need some hardcore, hard fouls on people penetrating the lane. Not to take anything from the young guys, but a lot of them haven't been in this situation where they are fighting for the playoffs. They don't understand what it takes to get to the playoffs."

Two months ago, Oakley was one of the Wizards who felt Washington would win enough games by now not only to be entrenched in the playoffs but to be fighting for homecourt advantage. Now he wonders if they have the toughness to be even the bottom seed.

Asked if this is a playoff team, he replied, "I don't know. I'm not going to lie to you. We'll have to wait and see. When I signed, I expected it. Now … I just don't know."

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