- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The disaster that is the Washington Wizards last night looked very much like a team that has hit bottom.

Facing a young Denver Nuggets team that has something to play for, the Wizards were utterly noncompetitive before 14,924 MCI Center spectators who probably deserved a refund after the Nuggets handed the Wizards their worst loss of the season 117-87.

“It’s embarrassing,” Washington guard Juan Dixon said. “I mean, just walking through the tunnel to the locker room, fans telling us to take the money and run. That’s sad when it comes from your fans. When I heard that, I was a little hurt. But we’re not playing good basketball right now.”

Five Wizards scored in double figures, led by Gilbert Arenas’ 23 points. But this meant nothing on a night when the Nuggets revisited the era when Dan Issel and Alex English played for them, scoring 71 points in the second half.

It was the most points scored by any team in one half against the Wizards, and it was so ugly that coach Eddie Jordan took a shot at the team.

“Gilbert stood out,” he said. “Frankly, he played like an NBA player. Not many other players did.”

Of course, none of this is new to Jordan. This was his team’s 11th loss of the season by 21 points or more, and 28 of their losses have been by 10 points or more. The win gives Denver (34-31) its first season sweep (2-0) of the Wizards since the 1994-95 season.

If the back-to-back losses to Boston and New York over the weekend didn’t squelch any talk of the Wizards (20-42) making the playoffs, last night’s throttling certainly should have.

Making matters worse, the Wizards might have lost both Jarvis Hayes and Jared Jeffries. Hayes, who had been starting in place of injured Jerry Stackhouse (knee), did not return in the second half after injuring his left hamstring.

Jeffries, who took Hayes’ place at the start of the second half, returned to the bench with a sore right knee, forcing the Wizards to rely on seldom-used Mitchell Butler. X-rays of Jeffries’ knee were negative, but both he and Hayes are doubtful for tonight’s game in Orlando.

After being slapped around again, Jordan wasn’t giving his team any outs.

“These signs have been with us throughout the year,” Jordan said, “and now when it’s really time to gut it out, you know, only a few guys tried to gut it out. Some guys tried, but they just couldn’t. We’re just not good enough right now.”

The Wizards were especially poor against a Western Conference team that, despite playing in the rough-and-tumble Midwest Division, already has won more than twice the games it did last season.

Fighting to reach the playoffs for the first time since the 1994-95 season — a drought longer than the Wizards’ six seasons — Denver came into last night’s game having lost eight of its last nine games and looking very much like a young, talented team that had not learned how to win.

The Wizards cured that problem quickly.

Denver closed the first half on an 11-0 run that took the Nuggets from trailing 39-35 to leading 46-39 at the half. Denver continued to dominate Washington into the third quarter, when it made 59 percent of its field goals while limiting the Wizards to 6-for-21 shooting from the field.

This lopsidedness led to the inevitable 23-point lead by the Nuggets, and it grew as high as 32 in the fourth quarter

Voshon Lenard led Denver with 27 points on 11-for-17 shooting. Baltimore native Carmelo Anthony missed his first six shots from the field but rebounded to make 10 of his last 15 and finish with 26 points. He also added seven assists and six rebounds.

For the Wizards, Dixon scored 19 points and grabbed five rebounds. Kwame Brown finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

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