- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2005

After 44 games, the following is obvious about the 2004-05 Washington Wizards: They can score, and they have a difficult time stopping other teams from scoring.

The Wizards average 102.1 points, second only to Phoenix’s 109.4. But they allow opponents to average 101.7 and shoot 46 percent from the floor, numbers that rank last and 26th in the 30-team league.

By going 26-18, second in the Southeast Division, the long-dormant Wizards have overcome their defensive shortcomings for much of the season. But their current three-game losing streak has focused attention on some warts.

One trait that might haunt the Wizards if they reach the playoffs for the first time since 1997 is that they don’t yet play with the trademark physicality exhibited by successful teams such as Detroit and San Antonio. Coach Eddie Jordan is aware of the problem, saying, “We have to rely on our quickness, our athleticism and our activity.”

That’s routine for teams that perform as the Wizards do on offense. But there are times when the game slows down, especially in the postseason. That’s when the Pistons, with physical players like Ben and Rasheed Wallace, are at their best. The same is true of the Spurs.

The Wizards got a taste of that Tuesday when the Pistons erased a five-point deficit and outscored Washington 35-21 in the fourth quarter to win 105-96.

Wizards center Brendan Haywood said he tried to carve out an inside presence against the Pistons, but his efforts were hampered when he picked up three fouls in the first quarter.

“By the 40th game of the season, if you haven’t established yourself as a team that knocks people out of the way, you’re not going to get those calls,” Haywood said. “The other night I’m pushing Ben and Rasheed, and they are pushing me. But when we pushed back at them, it was a foul.

“Was it because they have a bigger name than we do or because they are more physical? We don’t know. But I don’t think we’ve established that level of physicality where we can go out there and just knock people around for a whole game, because we are going to wind up in foul trouble.”

The Wizards get their bruising play out of Etan Thomas, who is still playing his way back into shape after missing much of the first half of the season with a severely strained abdomen, and Michael Ruffin. They hope to become more imposing along the front line when Kwame Brown returns from an ankle injury, probably after the All-Star Game later this month.

But looking way down the road is a mistake. The Wizards for the moment must be concerned with tonight’s game at Toronto (19-27).

“Every game is important, but we want to treat this as one of the biggest games of the year,” Jordan said. “We haven’t gone through a three-game losing streak this year. The approach to the game is key, and we want to make sure that we are all on the same page, understanding that every possession of the game at each end of the floor is important.”

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