- The Washington Times - Friday, May 6, 2005

The Washington Wizards have arrived at an interesting place going into tonight’s Game 6 against the Chicago Bulls at MCI Center.

Recent history suggests the Wizards, winners of three straight and on the verge of winning the franchise’s first playoff series in 23 years, should ease into the second round of the playoffs, setting up a best-of-7 series with Southeast Division champion Miami.

Through five games, the Wizards have emerged as the deeper, more talented team. Gilbert Arenas’ jumper Wednesday with time expiring at United Center conjured up strong pro-Washington karma helped by the Wizards’ 10-game home winning streak over the Bulls dating back to April 11, 2001.

But not so fast.

Just a few days ago, the playoff trivia that best described the Wizards’ predicament was that only eight times in league history had a team recovered from a 0-2 start to win a playoff series. But now there is an underlying feeling they are in control of the series.

“We have put ourselves in the driver’s seat,” forward Antawn Jamison said. “We need our crowd to be ridiculous. We need them to be crazy.”

Jamison then stops, squints and pauses.

“But we also know how hard it is to finish off a series. [Bulls coach] Scott Skiles is going to have these guys fighting from the beginning to the end. So our task and this obstacle are definitely not over.”

No, they aren’t. Sure the Wizards won the important Game 5, a monumental accomplishment because 100 of the 120 NBA playoffs series tied at 2-2 have gone to the winner of Game 5. And, yes, the Wizards are without question the more physically talented team, with Brendan Haywood, Etan Thomas, Juan Dixon, Jared Jeffries and Michael Ruffin playing larger roles now than they did while toiling in the shadow of the “Big Three” of Jamison, Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes.

But in their minds is the knowledge Arenas was required to nail one of the most memorable shots in franchise history to save a Game 5 in which the Wizards blew a 22-point third-quarter lead and almost blew a 10-point lead in the final 40 seconds.

Not lost on the Wizards is that after the first two games, it was the Bulls who were averaging 108 points, 13 more a game than the Wizards, and seemingly were in control.

“It’s a challenge,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “It’s going to be a tough game. We can’t go in saying that we won a great game in Chicago at the buzzer. We have to go in with a whole new mind-set, and that’s hard. It was a great game. It was a heck of an accomplishment for us, but we have to recover.”

Fortunately for Washington, the Bulls seem to fade a little bit more every time they take the court. The injury losses of starters Eddy Curry and Luol Deng — though the Bulls don’t use this as a crutch — resonates more with each game.

And Skiles, confident but cautious when the series began, now speaks with much more apprehension.

“They are all over the glass, they are driving right by us and we are kind of looking at them as they go by us,” Skiles said. “We need to pick up the energy and play. Without even running screen-and-rolls, they are going right by us and that is something we’ve got to stop. We need to pick up our overall level of energy and play.”

And there isn’t much time left.

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