- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2004

Members of the surprisingly successful current Washington Wizards don’t seem to mind any association with the franchise’s dreary recent past.

In fact, they love it — especially if it makes opponents overconfident.

Off to their best 13-game start (8-5) since the 1984-85 team opened with an identical record, the Wizards hope foes will continue to envision them as losers rather than as today’s much improved version that is second in the league in scoring (102.3) and has won five of its last six games.

“We know people really think that we are going to fail no matter what kind of start we have,” guard Larry Hughes said. “No matter how many games we win, everybody is looking for us to fall down somewhere down the road.”

And how does Hughes feel about that?

“That’s how we stay focused,” Hughes said. “The thing is, we can’t account for past things that the organization did. We can only account for what we have in this locker room right now. We plan on coming out winning games and letting everybody look at us this year and not go back five or 10 years. But if that’s how they see us, that’s fine, too.”

Even normally cautious coach Eddie Jordan, who yesterday conducted his first practice since a blood clot developed in his leg last week, sounded ready to admit the Wizards could be on to something in his second season as coach.

“In this league, it’s talent, toughness and experience, and I think we have all three,” Jordan said. “I see us limiting the mistakes that we made last year. I see how the Eastern Conference is shaping up. I have seen how we have done with our two big guys out, and when they come back I think we can shoot for more than just [being in] the playoffs.”

Jordan was referring to Kwame Brown, who played his first game Wednesday after missing 12 with a broken right foot, and backup center Etan Thomas, still recovering from an abdominal strain.

The Wizards, who would have a six-game winning streak if not for a two-point overtime loss at Philadelphia last Friday, are clearly enjoying the good start this season. Their success largely is attributable to their league-leading scoring trio of Antawn Jamison (23.2), Gilbert Arenas (21.6) and Hughes (19.5), who account for 65.3 points a game, and the fact that five wins came against New Jersey, Toronto and Boston teams that are a combined 14 games below .500.

However, those three teams — and every other team in the league except 21-61 Orlando — had a better record last season than Washington, which hasn’t made the playoffs since 1997.

Tonight Washington visits a struggling (2-12) Atlanta team that probably sees the Wizards as beatable only because they are, well, the Wizards. With that in mind, Washington’s players are determined to avoid becoming complacent.

“We’re still the underdogs here, even though we won five out of six,” said Arenas, who scored a season-high 30 points in the Wizards’ 95-68 rout of New Jersey on Wednesday.

Arenas is quick to refer to the five games before the current six-game stretch. The Wizards went 1-4 with a win against Orlando and losses to Miami (twice), Cleveland and Dallas.

“When we lost four out of five, people were like, ‘Oh, they’re back to their old selves,’” he said. “We just have to keep looking at ourselves and being positive. We haven’t done enough to make people think we’re a powerhouse team. We don’t think that way.”

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