- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

After last night, it’s pretty clear a playoff race is a bold new world for the Washington Wizards.

Despite the return of Antawn Jamison, the Wizards lost to the Boston Celtics 116-108 at MCI Center. Washington didn’t lose any ground in the fight for fourth place in the Eastern Conference — the Chicago Bulls were pounded by the Miami Heat — but its failure to capitalize on the absence of Boston’s Antoine Walker was telling.

“This is part of the team not really knowing how to play at this time of the year,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said after the Wizards (41-32) dropped back-to-back home games for the first time since Feb. 1. “It seemed that way. Some individuals had a sense of urgency; they played hard, and they played very well.

“Yet as a team we just didn’t seem to take command of the game. Again, another team came into our place and dictated the tempo and the style and the pace of the game. We got the lead, but we didn’t have the discipline to capitalize.”

Jamison, who had been out since March 16 with knee tendinitis, finished with 30 points, including 16 in a row for the Wizards in the third quarter. He made all four of his 3-pointers. Gilbert Arenas, meanwhile, matched his career high with 43 points, making 21 of 25 free throws.

They had little help, however. Larry Hughes, who sprained his left elbow Friday night, made only three of 16 shots and finished with nine points. The bench contributed just eight points, six of which came from Michael Ruffin. The bench for the Atlantic Division-leading Celtics (40-34), meanwhile, scored 39.

Still, Washington managed to erase a 16-point third quarter deficit to take a 96-95 lead with 5:35 left in the fourth, only to be outscored 21-12 the rest of the game.

The Wizards didn’t help their cause on defense, allowing Boston to get plenty of open looks and make 40 of 79 shots from the floor. Boston, which had won just one of its previous four games, didn’t seem to miss Walker, who was out with a knee injury. They placed seven players in double-digits, led by Paul Pierce with 25 points. Point guard Gary Payton looked as if he had found the Fountain of Youth, finishing with 14 points and 11 assists.

“We’re in cruise control, and I don’t know why,” Arenas said. “But we need to go out there and act like we need to win some games. This cruise control or whatever it is, it’s not like we’re doing it on purpose. Maybe it’s because we’re comfortable because we are playing at home, and we feel like we can turn it on whenever we want to. But it’s not the beginning of the season. People are coming at us.”

So are the Wizards’ fans, who seem particularly antsy to see the team reclaim the fourth spot and the accompanying homecourt advantage for the playoffs that comes with it. Washington is tied with Chicago, but the Bulls hold the tiebreaker.

Many of the 14,902 in attendance focused their hostility on Kwame Brown, who came off the bench and scored just two points in 24 minutes.

During one particularly ugly stretch in the third quarter, Brown flubbed two free throws after a failed drive to the basket, was whistled for a defensive three-second violation resulting in a technical foul and then bobbled away the ball on what seemed a sure layup. The fans ripped into him with a progressively louder chorus of boos after each transgression.

It was so bad Jordan walked the sideline trying to signal the fans to back off.

“No, you don’t,” Brown said when asked whether he paid any attention to it. “You just come out and play harder. You just use it as motivation to play harder. Who cares? I’ve been through worse stuff than that.”

Arenas didn’t feel as if the harsh reaction helped Brown.

“As a player you’re looking at it, and you’re seeing your fans boo one of your teammates,” Arenas said. “I mean, what do you do? We’re trying to encourage him, and they are discouraging him. And now he doesn’t want to get booed, so he doesn’t want to do nothing. It’s like the fans are hurting his confidence. He’s not going to be perfect, and they are not going to give him a chance.”

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