- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2005

This time last year, the Washington Wizards were 10-27, Jerry Stackhouse’s season was about to become a wasted one and Gilbert Arenas was trying to get back on the floor too quickly from a severely strained abdomen.

The Wizards (22-15) have 12 more wins as this season approaches its midpoint, and the playoffs don’t seem out of reach despite injuries to Larry Hughes (broken thumb) and Kwame Brown (foot and ankle).

Even after lopsided recent losses to San Antonio and Dallas — the Wizards scored a season-low 73 points against the Spurs and allowed a league-high 137 to the Mavericks — the Wizards believe they are better equipped than in the past to handle adversity.

“Guys are more familiar with the system,” coach Eddie Jordan said. “They know what we are doing. That and bringing in Antawn [Jamison] are the big differences.”

But, Jordan noted, “The unknown [factor] is a little bigger.”

He added, “With Larry hurt, we have to see how this plays out. We have played two games with Larry out, and they were really scary. As coaches we have to find a way [to win], and the players have to find a way, too. The best teams don’t go crashing down in these circumstances — they find a way to survive. They are not better after an injury, but they do find ways to survive.”

To that end, Jordan will tweak the lineup for tonight’s home game against the Toronto Raptors, starting Jarvis Hayes and returning Juan Dixon to the bench. Jordan said the move is not to punish Dixon but simply to give the team more energy off the bench.

“It puts Juan back in his comfort zone,” Jordan said. “He has done a good job for us as a starter, but I like the energy he brings to us off the bench.”

Hayes, in his second season, is the team’s fourth leading scorer (9.9) but has struggled to find his shooting touch, connecting on just 36 percent. Jordan doesn’t want the 10th pick in last summer’s draft to force shots but to find his offense in the flow of the game and play tough defense.

“I want Jarvis to fulfill his role by playing with the guys out there,” Jordan said. “I want him to play the basketball game, play defense and take open shots. That said, he is going to have to step it up because Larry is injured.”

Another injury that hurts the Wizards is Brown’s right foot ailment. Brown, who has appeared in just 14 games, will rejoin the team today after having his foot examined in Los Angeles by specialist Richard Ferkel yesterday. Brown, who along with injuring his fifth metatarsal bone also has suffered from arch and ankle problems this season, said Tuesday he is concerned something more serious could be wrong with his foot.

Had he been healthy, Brown would have had plenty of opportunities to demonstrate his worth to the Wizards, who offered him a contract worth approximately $35million that he turned down. He will become a restricted free agent this summer.

Brown, now in his fourth season, posted career highs in scoring (10.9) and rebounding (7.4) last season. The Wizards expect to regain injured guard Steve Blake (sprained ankle) any day, and forward Etan Thomas is playing himself into shape after missing the first 32 games.

Jamison said he hopes the 6-foot-7, 220-pound Hayes will come in and give the team a lift.

“I told him, ‘If we ever come in this locker room and you don’t take at least 15 shots, I’m getting on your [rear end],’” Jamison said. “He has to get in that mind frame of ‘I got to shoot the ball.’”

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