- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2005

SALT LAKE CITY — With just 17 games left in the regular season, Washington Wizards guard Larry Hughes looks at the way the team has been playing lately and longs for the good old days.

“We’re not doing what we did to get this cushion,” Hughes said after the Wizards opened their five-game Western Conference road trip with an embarrassing 127-98 beating at the hands of the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night. “We’re doing things that we didn’t do. We weren’t a low-post team awhile ago. Now we’ve somehow become a low-post team, and it’s not working.

“When we were winning we won on drives and dishes and assists. That’s how we got things working. But now when we throw it down in the post it’s not working.”

Although the Wizards’ 36-29 record is the fourth-best in the Eastern Conference, Washington clearly hasn’t been the same team over the past month that it was earlier in the season.

They aren’t scoring as easily, and the once crisp ball movement almost has vanished. Denver, which had its best offensive outing since it posted 133 points against Milwaukee on Feb. 2, 2000, became the 19th consecutive team to finish with more assists than the Wizards.

The Wizards’ locker room has been a place of harmony for most of the season. The loss to Denver marked the first time players grumbled about the state of the team.

Hughes clearly thinks the Wizards have to get back to being a running team, not one that looks to run a set play now that it has its full complement of big men. The Wizards began the season with both Kwame Brown and Etan Thomas on the injured list.

“When our bigs came back we wanted to do something different as far as getting scores in the paint,” Hughes said. “I feel like we can get scores in the paint by driving and dishing the ball.”

One problem with that philosophy is the Wizards are playing without some of their best shooters. Antawn Jamison (knee tendinitis), who feasted off open jumpers created by drives by Hughes and Gilbert Arenas, is expected to be out until at least Sunday.

Juan Dixon (sprained ankle) is on the trip, but his status remains uncertain. And there is speculation Jarvis Hayes could be finished for the season with a fractured right kneecap.

Brown said it is not the time for the Wizards to start pointing fingers.

“You’ve just got to look ahead,” Brown said. “The worst thing you can do is be negative and start talking about teammates. You have to let go of that game. Be mad about it and then go out and use that aggression against Utah [tonight].”

Before they embarked on this road trip the Wizards seemed almost dismissive of its importance. But Arenas said that approach could prove fatal for the Wizards, who have lost 10 of their last 12 road games.

“We play around like this, we’ll [mess] around and won’t make the playoffs,” Arenas said. “We’re five games away from being in ninth place. Orlando was right behind us and look where they are [ninth at 32-35] because they didn’t have their heads on right. And it can happen to us. We’ve still got 17 games left. We can still be 10th or 11th place. And until we realize that we’re going to keep getting our [butts] whipped like this.”

Brendan Haywood agreed.

“We have to go out there and play the same way we’ve been playing all year and do what got us here,” Haywood said. “As long as we do that and play aggressive we’ll be fine.”

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