- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

The postseason fate of the Wizards is in the shaky hands of the wayward 7-footer and the backup center endeavoring to be more than a poet.

Measuring the up-and-down growth of Brendan Haywood is one of the part-time activities on Fun Street because he is apt to play anywhere from Eddie Gaedel-like small to his listed height.

The one endeavoring to be more than a poet is in the throes of a season-long slump. He has lots of impressive hair but only a handful of worthy performances, which merely shows he is no Samson.

The two players, modest though they may be, have to perform with more conviction if the Wizards want to be semi-significant participants in the postseason, as they were last season.

Michael Ruffin is a nice option to the inertia but too small and prone to foul trouble to be a 30-minute antidote on a consistent basis. He also can’t score unless the shot attempt is a dunk or tip-in.

The anemia of the team’s two leading interior players is an act of subversion that becomes most pronounced on the road, for whatever reasons.

Gilbert Arenas, for one, is not certain of the mechanism that enfeebles the interior defense of the Wizards in foreign venues.

“Some people don’t want to get into foul trouble on the road,” he said after the Wizards defeated the Kings 117-107 in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood yesterday. “I don’t know why that is, because usually they aren’t going to play enough to foul out.”

The maddening weakness of the Wizards underneath the basket often nullifies the collective good work of Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison.

The emphasis in Philadelphia was the 47-point performance of Allen Iverson, who nearly broke the ankles of Antonio Daniels on one of his forays to the basket, which prompted his teammates to inscribe “Crazy Legs Daniels” on the back of his name plate above his dressing cubicle.

The Wizards could have overcome Iverson and the 76ers if they had not been required to endure the 30 points of the one-legged Chris Webber, who now moves at the two speeds of slow and not at all. A hand in the face of Webber would have been enough to subdue him.

But that kind of omission has come to be fairly standard stuff with the Wizards, especially on the road.

Their three-game losing streak last week was facilitated by the 39 points of Pau Gasol, the dominant fourth quarter of David Harrison and the set shots of Webber, who is gimpy enough to merit a handicapped parking decal on the windshield of his vehicle.

That is not a pattern. That is the season-long curse of the Wizards.

Brad Miller started the afternoon with 10 points in the first quarter, which resulted in Haywood going to the bench at the 2:23 mark with two fouls.

The one endeavoring to be more than a poet showed more spunk than Haywood, but not enough to dissuade coach Eddie Jordan from employing Ruffin and Calvin Booth at various junctures in the second half.

Jordan’s none-too-subtle commentary is liable to have the desired effect with Haywood, if the past is an indication. Haywood usually races to the nearest telephone booth to change into his big fellow britches after being banished to the bench for a considerable time.

Haywood has come to be the team’s “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” to borrow from Winston Churchill, which is to say he can be effective against Zydrunas Ilgauskas or reduced to nothingness from a bad dish of Peking duck.

The Wizards are where they are after 58 games, in a tight race that changes daily, because of the capriciousness of Haywood and the one endeavoring to be more than a poet.

Their arrival, however late, is essential to the 24-game challenge ahead.

The Wizards cannot continue to allow 100-plus points a game and expect it to end well for them.

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