- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Washington Wizards, who want to be peaking for the postseason, instead are playing their worst basketball of the year and backing into the playoffs.

Once again last night, the Wizards (41-35) let a foe take a big lead and found their rally merely a case of too little too late.

With the season’s 11th sellout crowd at MCI Center (20,173) pleading for the Wizards to end their skid, the Philadelphia 76ers showed up without Allen Iverson and Chris Webber but nonetheless extended Washington’s season-high losing streak to five games with a 112-106 victory.

As far as losses go, this one was of the devastating variety. The Wizards remained sixth in the jostling for Eastern Conference playoff spots. Philadelphia (39-37), winner of four straight and tied for seventh with Cleveland, trails the Wizards by just two games.

This type of loss takes the pulse of a team, and right now the Wizards’ is weak at best.

They fell behind by 21 points but erased the deficit in the fourth quarter and even took a 13-point lead with Gilbert Arenas, who finished with a career-high 44 points, leading the way.

But another defenseless fourth quarter — the Sixers made 12 of 18 shots from the floor (66.7 percent) as reserve center Marc Jackson dominated with 10 of his 20 points — washed away all the good feeling that had been built up.

“There is no excuse for us to play as poorly as we did, then to come back and get the lead and then blow it defensively,” said Wizards forward Antawn Jamison, who scored 14 points and led the Wizards with seven assists. “And I think it’s all mental. It’s all about understanding what it takes to get it done. In order for us to do anything these next few games or in the playoffs, we have to have a defensive mindset.”

The Sixers didn’t need the deep, probing self-analysis to win a game they had to have just as much as the Wizards. Rather they had three players — Jackson, rookie Andre Iguodala and Iverson replacement Willie Green — go for 20.

Iverson missed the game with a pair of sprained thumbs and Webber with a shoulder injury. The Sixers more than picked up the slack as Samuel Dalembert (18 points) and Rodney Rogers (17) made big contributions.

“It would have been easy just to cave in,” Sixers forward Kyle Korver, who added 10 points, said of his depleted team. “We’ve had to dig out of holes so many times this year. We have guys missing, and we have guys that are hurt. We have guys who are banged up, but they keep on fighting.”

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said there is no sense of desperation because Washington’s next four games are at home. However, MCI Center has been anything but the safe haven it was for much of the season. Last night’s loss was the Wizards’ third straight at home.

“We know where we are as a first-time contending playoff team,” Jordan said. “I know where we are. We told our guys earlier that the second half of the basketball season was going to be the hardest thing you’ve done in your basketball life. And now we see it, we feel it and we’re going through it. But there is no panic.”

With the crowd sensing blood at the news that Iverson would be on the bench and Webber wasn’t even in the building, all the Sixers did was bridge the first and second quarter with a 17-0 run, and in what seemed like no time the Wizards were on the wrong side of a 42-21 score.

With the Wizards playing less than a hint of defense, the Sixers made eight of 14 shots from behind the 3-point line. However, Arenas scored 14 points in the second quarter to cut the Sixers’ lead to 12 at halftime.

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