- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2004

In a disappointing season full of ugly, telltale statistics, one stands out for the Washington Wizards.

One — as in the number of victories the Wizards have in 16 games against teams in the woeful Atlantic Division.

“I never would have thought we would be that bad in the division,” guard Gilbert Arenas said shortly after the New York Knicks blasted the Wizards 99-86 on Sunday. “I don’t know, to tell you the truth. I guess we just can’t get it done in our division right now. It’s not something that we’re thinking about. We just have to go out there and continue to fight.”

The Wizards were all but eliminated from the playoff race following second-half collapses in back-to-back losses to division rivals Boston and New York. They face the Denver Nuggets tonight at MCI Center.

When the Wizards look back at this season, they almost certainly will point to the division losses as a source of their disappointment. The lowly Orlando Magic, whom the Wizards face tomorrow night, have the second-worst record in division play with a 6-13 mark.

“Yeah, it’s not a very good thing when you look at it,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said late last month. “Those are the ones you really want to get because those are the teams you face the most.”

The Wizards’ lone division win this year came Jan.10 at MCI Center against Philadelphia, 94-87. In that game the Wizards used a season-high 43 points from Larry Hughes to beat a 76ers team that looks like it will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

The only good news? If it’s any consolation for the Wizards, they will leave the Atlantic Division at the end of the season and join expansion team Charlotte, Miami, Orlando and Atlanta in what should be a fairly weak Southeast Division.

“We really can’t look at [the division losses] like that,” said Arenas, who is averaging 30.2 points, 5.8 assists but also 5.0 turnovers the last five games.. “You have to move forward all the time in this league. We’re looking forward to playing as well as we can against Denver.”

Struggling Denver (33-31) limps into MCI Center after a stellar start to the season. As of Feb.2, the Nuggets, winners of just 17 games last year, were eight games over .500 (29-21). However, they have lost their last three games and eight of their last nine. Tonight starts a three-game road trip that also includes visits to New Jersey and Milwaukee, which doesn’t bode well for the Nuggets, who are just 11-19 on the road — 3-7 against the Eastern Conference.

Rookie of the year candidate Carmelo Anthony leads the team in scoring with 20.3 points and averages 6.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists.

Despite the Nuggets’ skid, Denver is clinging to the eighth playoff spot in the West.

“I’m trying to continue to make sure they believe in themselves and keep battling,” Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “My players need to continue to believe in themselves and keep battling on every possession. If they do that, good things will happen for them.”

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