- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

The Washington Wizards haven’t been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs entering tonight’s game at New York, but their play in recent weeks has left some players admitting they are starting to look toward next year.

The Wizards are nine games out of the eighth playoff spot with 17 games remaining, and they have lost their last six games, allowing an average of 111.2 points.

“It’s hard [to prepare for games now],” Wizards forward Kwame Brown said. “Knowing mentally — not to say that you are playing for nothing — but you’re playing, and you pretty much know that the season is going to end on April14.”

While the Wizards (20-45) appear headed to the lottery, the Knicks (30-37) have a shot at the playoffs after making a number of big trades this season, most notably acquiring Stephon Marbury from Phoenix. The Knicks are tied with the Miami Heat for seventh in the conference but hold the tiebreaker.

Washington then returns to MCI Center on Wednesday to face Sacramento. The Kings, who recently saw the return of All-Star forward Chris Webber, have the best record in the West but are being pressed by both Minnesota and San Antonio.

That means the Wizards could find themselves in position to be spoilers, a role coach Eddie Jordan doesn’t like to talk about much.

“Nope, haven’t used that yet,” Jordan said. “Maybe I will use it; right now I don’t know how to use it yet. We just want to play well. We’re still developing guys; we’re still trying to win games. We’re not mathematically eliminated, so it’s not about being a spoiler yet.”

Accepting that role would be akin to acknowledging the Wizards have little to play for, something that appears true. Even though the Wizards are technically alive in the Eastern Conference, they have a 1-17 mark in the woeful Atlantic Division and have lost more games than all but two teams in the NBA.

The Wizards are just 4-11 in the second half of the season and have had two horrible stretches that have virtually sealed their fate. Starting with the last game before the All-Star break, they lost five consecutive games by an average of 22 points.

Washington followed by winning four of its next five, but any potential steam from that stretch — when the Los Angeles Lakers were the only team to beat the Wizards — has dissipated with the most recent losing streak.

The Wizards were outscored 14-0 in the final four minutes of their last three losses; allowed five Atlanta Hawks to score at least 20 points against them in a 138-124 loss, the first time that has happened in the NBA in 10 years; and gave up 62 points to Orlando’s Tracy McGrady, the most by a player since the Spurs’ David Robinson scored 71 in the final game of the 1993-94 season.

Notes — Jerry Stackhouse did not practice yesterday, taking rehab instead. He is expected to play tonight. Jarvis Hayes did not practice and is not expected to start.

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