- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2004

It is probably time to stop using the word “playoffs” in conjunction with the Washington Wizards. The more appropriate word might be “lottery.”

That’s where the Wizards appear headed this spring after dropping two potentially huge games over the weekend.

Gilbert Arenas and Juan Dixon did their best to try to help the Wizards knock off the New York Knicks yesterday but got little help from their teammates in a 99-86 loss in front of 15,314 at MCI Center.

“It certainly wasn’t one of our best effort performances. That was a disappointment,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “One, two or three guys don’t bring it, then the team doesn’t bring it because we’re all in it together. They just pretty much outworked us tonight.”

The dispirited performance left the fading Wizards (20-41) 6 games out of the final playoff spot. It also dropped their record against Atlantic Division opponents to 1-15.

Arenas finished with a game-high 28 points, four assists and seven turnovers, and Dixon had 25 points and four assists for the Wizards.

The rest of the team might as well have spent the day taking in the glorious sunshine outside MCI Center because they were almost no help. Washington’s starting frontcourt of Jarvis Hayes, Brendan Haywood and Kwame Brown were nearly noncombatants, combining for 18 points and 13 rebounds.

“This is not the way that we hoped to play,” Jordan said. “We have to try to keep the ball in our guys’ hands who can make a play and sometimes try to keep the ball out of people’s hands who can’t make a play. We’ve maximized touches for Gilbert and Juan if we could. Certainly we rely on Kwame to score for us in the post.”

Stephon Marbury had 24 points and 13 assists for the Knicks (29-35), while Allan Houston finished with 23 points. The Knicks’ backcourt, unlike the Wizards’, was bolstered by a balanced effort from New York’s big men. Forward Tim Thomas, who got Hayes into early foul trouble, was 7-for-8 from the field and finished with 18 points and five rebounds. Nazr Mohammed, who has supplanted Dikembe Mutombo at center, finished with 15 points, five rebounds and three steals.

Yesterday’s game bore some resemblance to the Washington’s loss to the Boston Celtics on Friday, when they blew a 12-point lead and got outscored 44-28 in the final quarter to lose 94-90.

The Wizards never led yesterday after Brown’s dunk 14 seconds into the game made it 2-0, but the Wizards again appeared to shrivel as the pressure mounted.

Washington trailed by as much as 13 points early in the second quarter, but Dixon’s layup with 2:28 remaining in the third quarter pulled the Wizards within 67-62.

The Wizards failed to score the rest of the quarter and turned over the ball three times — they finished with 18 for the game, which the Knicks converted into 24 points — and New York scored on all six of its final possessions to lead by 13 going into the fourth.

Marbury capped a 12-0 run with a layup that pushed the Knicks’ lead to 79-62 with 10:57 left in the game.

The Wizards never got any closer than nine points the rest of the way.

Bleak as the situation looks, Arenas tried to remain optimistic afterward.

“We have to just dig down and just go harder,” Arenas said. “We have to pull together and fight hard. Tonight we didn’t.”

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