- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Washington Wizards have experienced more than their share of late-game misfortune this season.

On Feb. 13 in Oklahoma City, victory almost in hand, the Hornets’ David West made an improbable jumper with less than one second left to suck the life out of the Wizards.

Fast forward three weeks to their March 7 game against Boston at Verizon Center. Washington was one stop away from winning in overtime only to see Boston’s Paul Pierce make a difficult jumper with time running out to end the Wizards’ hopes of an important Eastern Conference victory.

That is pretty much the way the script has gone for the Wizards (30-30). They play hard. They play well. And then in the waning moments, the big play goes the opponent’s way.

The theme goes back to before the All-Star break, when the Wizards saw their five-game winning streak end with close losses at Oklahoma City (97-96) and Dallas (103-97), a game in which they led in the final two minutes before some crucial miscues cost them what would have been a huge upset.

“It’s kind of hard to get positives out of losses,” forward Antawn Jamison said. “Going back to around the All-Star break we’ve been right there in games. That’s something you have to keep in perspective. We are doing some good things to be in games. But that doesn’t give you a spot in the playoffs. We need to win games. It needs to happen where we don’t just find ways to be in games. We have to find ways to turn the tables.”

Or as Wizards coach Eddie Jordan put it: “Sometimes the ball rolls your way and sometimes it doesn’t.

“Last year when we were winning, we were getting balls that rolled our way, fouls that rolled our way and free throws that rolled our way. We are not getting those right now.”

The Wizards have lost five of their last six games, including a loss to Miami for the 15th straight time Wednesday, this one on a Dwyane Wade jumper in the final 15 seconds. And it won’t be easy to get back on track tonight, not with the Detroit Pistons in town.

The Pistons are an NBA-best 49-11, and of Eastern Conference teams only Miami has won more games at home (23-6) than the Pistons have on the road (22-9). At this point in the season — at any point, really — Detroit presents as formidable test as any.

One source of energy the Wizards hope to tap into tonight will be All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas. Jordan has said on numerous occasions he would like Arenas to be a more vocal leader on the court.

Yesterday Arenas sounded as if he had gotten the message. Always looking for a source of motivation, Arenas knows Detroit coach Flip Saunders almost certainly didn’t vote for him to make the Eastern Conference All-Star Team. Saunders coached the team and four of his players — Ben and Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton — made the squad as reserves.

And even when Arenas was added to the team, he played only nine minutes.

“If your team sees you fired up to play, then they are going to get fired up also,” Arenas said. “Detroit is the best team in the league right now so we have to get fired up — Flip Saunders is a great coach.”

Note — Jared Jeffries might return to the lineup after missing the last two games with a calf injury, Jordan said.

“He practiced very well today; he was active,” Jordan said. “He’s looked good. We’ll have to see now what happens tomorrow.”

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