- The Washington Times - Friday, March 12, 2004

ATLANTA — Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan called the first few weeks following the All-Star Game the “dog days” of the season.

Turns out Jordan was wrong, mostly because the rampant mediocrity of the Eastern Conference allowed even the worst teams — with the possible exceptions of Orlando and Chicago — to stay mathematically in the playoff race. But after winning four of five games in a recent stretch, the Wizards again are in the throes of a four-game losing streak.

Orlando’s Tracy McGrady’s 62-point outburst Wednesday night gave the Wizards the fourth-worst record in the league (20-43). That allowed him to join Michael Jordan and David Robinson as players in the last 11 years to score that many points.

The Wizards’ record could get even uglier tonight against equally bad Atlanta (20-44) because the wave of injuries that earlier sidelined Jerry Stackhouse (knee), Gilbert Arenas (abdomen/groin) and Larry Hughes (wrist) now is afflicting other players.

Juan Dixon, Stackhouse’s replacement for the last seven games, sprained his right ankle in the first quarter against Orlando and is questionable. So are Jarvis Hayes (left hamstring) and Kwame Brown (left ankle), neither of whom dressed for the Orlando game.

“This is a tough stretch for us,” said forward Jared Jeffries, who will start in Brown’s spot. “We’ve had problems with injuries. It’s like this has been the biggest thing that has kept us from getting our team together all year.”

Jeffries isn’t particularly healthy himself. He could have sat out the Orlando game after experiencing soreness in his surgically repaired right knee.

“I have a lot of reasons to play,” the second-year man said. “This is what I do, and I want to get better at it. My leg hurt, and it was scary when I did it because of the surgery. But if you look at it, everybody has some dings at this time of the year.”

Stackhouse, who hasn’t played in almost two weeks after complaining of soreness in his ankles and knees, wasn’t in Orlando on Wednesday. However, he joined the team in Atlanta and took part in a light practice at Georgia Tech.

Stackhouse pretty much ruled out playing tonight. However, he could be on the MCI Center floor tomorrow night when the Wizards play Boston.

Since he prematurely declared his season over following a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb.28, Stackhouse has had his knees and ankles re-examined and received a clean bill of health. However, the soreness persists, which makes him cautious, especially since there are 19 games remaining.

“There’s a consensus for me being on the floor and helping us finish on a strong note,” Stackhouse said. “I’m all for it. But I’m not going to hurt myself, and I don’t think anybody involved from top to bottom wants me to hurt myself.”

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