- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A three-game winning streak, capped with a hard-fought victory over the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington’s favorite punching bag, Kwame Brown, has lifted the Wizards’ spirits.

It didn’t take much considering that before the streak — the team’s longest since the season’s first three games of the season — the Wizards were reeling, having lost 13 of 17 games. The Wizards looked like they might be returning to their usual status in the league — that of lottery-bound slug.

During the slide, the players maintained that chemistry had to kick in at some point, and they spoke honestly about the fact that nobody — with the possible exceptions of All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison — knew their role with the team.

But winning remedies many things, and the Wizards’ latest victories have coincided with the insertion of Caron Butler in the lineup at small forward and moving Jared Jeffries — at 6-foot-11, a natural power forward — to shooting guard.

And while their 12-14 record is not as sparkling as the 15-11 mark from last season, Washington’s position is not that bad when considering all the personnel changes.

“A lot of people have written us off,” said Butler, who helped finish off the Lakers, his old team, with 16 points and a clutch 3-pointer — his first of the season — late in the fourth quarter. “We lost a couple games and we had a bad stretch. But the team has stayed closed, stayed together and now we’re right back at it. Now we’re starting to put together wins and we’re going to continue to do that. We are going to shock a lot of people. That’s our goal.”

The Wizards, who play host to Phoenix tonight at MCI Center, are one of just six teams in the league that has played 15 or more road games (going into last night). Among Eastern Conference teams, only Detroit and New Jersey have winning records.

The schedule has turned decidedly more kind this week. Beginning with their 94-91 squeaker over the Lakers on Monday, the Wizards, owners of the second-best record in the Southeast Division, play seven of eight games at home.

“We haven’t played that many home games and now we have to compensate for that with some wins on our home court, it’s that simple,” Butler said. “We have to protect our home.”

While the Wizards should feel good after notching wins over some quality opponents of late, it would be irresponsible to ignore ugly losses at depleted Portland — where castoffs Juan Dixon and Steve Blake embarrassed them — or at home against Chicago, where the Bulls outscored Washington 16-0 in the final 2:49 of a demoralizing 118-111 setback.

But the Wizards haven’t lost since the Portland game, stringing together wins at Denver and Phoenix and at home against the Lakers.

Arenas said the loss at Portland might have shaken the team up.

“When we lost there we were sad for a minute, but we snapped out of it and went back to being our old selves,” said Arenas, who is averaging 37 points a game during the win streak. “We were just ready to play the next game. Our confidence is high off of these wins and now we have to keep it that way.”

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