- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Washington Wizards will get a second opportunity to reach the playoffs tonight in Milwaukee — and a second chance to don shirts announcing that feat — in what is a huge game for both the Wizards and Bucks.

With five games left in the regular season, the Wizards (39-38) need just one victory to earn a playoff berth for the second consecutive season. However, they have had all kinds of problems earning victories since they were hit with a spate of injuries in the last week. They also want to maintain the fifth seed to avoid playing Detroit, Miami or New Jersey in the first round.

The Wizards have played the last three games — all losses — without third-leading scorer Caron Butler (sprained thumb), and it looks like that could be the case again tonight.

The chances are a little bit better that center Etan Thomas, out the last two games with a sore back, might return against Milwaukee (37-40) . Both the Bucks and Indiana (37-40) are two games behind the fifth-seeded Wizards.

“This is what the season comes down to,” Wizards forward Antawn Jamison said. “We want to get in the playoffs, but we also want to hold on to the fifth seed.”

Along with the injuries to Butler and Thomas, Gilbert Arenas is still nursing a painful back injury. The news is a little better regarding Antonio Daniels, who is playing through the pain of a sprained wrist.

The last three games have been disastrous for the Wizards. In losses to Atlanta, Miami and Philadelphia, the defense was awful, giving up an average of 106 points while opponents made 47.4 percent of their field goal attempts. They lost those games by an average of 11.3 points.

The offense also has sputtered. Over the three games, the Wizards, the third highest-scoring team in the league (101.5), averaged just 94.6 points. With the pressure to score being heaped more on Arenas and Jamison, their combined shooting has dipped to 39.3 percent.

But the biggest problem of all is perhaps the disappearance of the bench. Atlanta’s bench outscored Washington’s 43-22. Miami’s reserves won the battle 30-16. The Wizards’ bench didn’t score a point through three quarters and scored all 16 of its points during garbage time in the fourth quarter.

The bench’s low point probably came Monday night in Philadelphia, where the 76ers’ reserves outscored the Wizards’ 27-5.

“We’ve got to have somebody step up,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “It doesn’t just have to be with points, but that would help. Right now teams are locking in on Gilbert and Antawn. And they are locked in to having to do it themselves, so it’s a fine line. With Caron out, the one thing we have to have is everybody playing at a high level. That and the confidence has to be there that you can get it done without Caron and Etan.”

The Bucks have sputtered lately — they have lost four straight games and are three games below .500 for the first time all season — and are feeling the pressure of the playoff race as well.

“We don’t have all season to get things corrected,” leading scorer Michael Redd (25.1) said. “The season is running out, and we have to win right now.”

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