- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2006


Aside from Caron Butler and Michael Ruffin, the Wizards lack the hard, gritty manner that is useful in the playoffs.

The Wizards are a pretty team that rarely delivers hard fouls.

This is a reflection of the team’s good-guy mentality.

You never would see the Wizards resort to the kind of petty nonsense that spilled out in public between Knicks coach Larry Brown and Stephon Marbury at one point in the regular season.

Coach Eddie Jordan and the players endeavor to resolve all their differences in the locker room. The Wizards are mostly fun-loving young men whose idea of a good time is to wisecrack or play jokes on each other.

Owner Abe Pollin, in his autumn years, finally has a team again that no longer embarrasses him. He finally has a team that is about basketball and not about which ones on the roster are three or four marijuana tokes over the line. He finally has a team that reflects in part the professionalism of Wes Unseld, who was the face of the franchise for nearly two generations.

So sometimes you do not know whether to hug the Wizards or deliver a swift kick to their rumps after a miserable performance. They mean well. They usually play hard. But sometimes they play as if they are distracted, and the postseason is no time to be distracted.

The postseason is about the leading players earning their money and building a reputation or starting a legend. The postseason is about the respective wills of teams. The postseason is about playing with the kind of passion that is humanly impossible in all 82 games because of a schedule that fatigues even the strongest.

Jordan, who leads the NBA in even-temperedness, indicted the Wizards on numerous counts after their wretched outing in Game 1 of their series with LeBron James. He had a right to be frustrated, even angry.

It is one thing to lose a playoff game. It is another to have a team going into the fetal position near the end of the first quarter and being unable to mount a genuine run.

The Wizards should be livid between now and Game 2 here tomorrow night, even if that is not part of their nature.

By now, they should be offended by all the NBA talking heads pointing out how soft and defensively challenged they are, as if the Cavaliers are a juggernaut on defense.

And they should distance themselves from the hype-enveloping James. He is human, after all, made of the same flesh and bone as everyone else.

James certainly was human one night in late February, when he was 7-for-21 from the field and missed 11 free throw attempts, as the visiting Wizards defeated the Cavaliers 102-94.

And the Wizards should understand, if they do not already, that they are being viewed as merely convenient props in the James love-in that borders on the pathological.

Difficult as it may be, Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison, in particular, need to check their basic decency at the arena’s door the rest of the way and play with the sort of rage that was absent in Game 1.

All the Wizards need to ask themselves this: Are they willing to be useful actors in Nike’s campaign extolling James?

A massive billboard hanging within a stone’s throw of Quicken Loans Arena shows James in monster-jam pose with the words: “We are all witnesses.”

Please pass the air-sickness bag.

The Wizards also should be tiring of James’ bad-man facade after he makes a difficult shot.

That contrivance is too reminiscent of Chris Webber’s ugly-face pose.

Yet until the Wizards exercise their right to be committed participants in the postseason, they are part of the first one-player series ever in the NBA.

For now, this series is James vs. the ghost of Michael Jordan.

All James and Nike really want from the Wizards is someone to play the role of Craig Ehlo near the end of a game.

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