- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2007

MIAMI — The Washington Wizards’ reserves played so much Wednesday night that Antawn Jamison’s 4 minutes, 25 seconds in the fourth quarter were the most of any starter. And with four regular season games left, plenty of minutes will remain available for the bench.

After falling to 39-39 with an 85-82 loss to the Miami Heat, the badly limping Wizards will play at Atlanta tonight, at home against Chicago on Sunday and Orlando on Tuesday night and at Indiana on Wednesday night. Because of injuries to All-Stars Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan has to refashion his rotation, finding matchups and players he can play together in the playoffs.

“We’re playing with a fairly new team in a sense, a fairly new way,” Jordan said after the Wizards lost their season-high sixth straight game, a result that gave the banged-up Miami Heat the Southeast Division crown. “We’re building something pretty much from the foundation. We have to be patient with it. At the same time we’re correcting our mistakes. And hopefully when the bright lights come on we’ll be a little bit sounder and a little bit more effective down the stretch.”

Right now the Wizards would be seeded sixth in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but they could fall even further. The top-seeded team in the conference just before the All-Star break, they blew a 71/2-game lead on the Heat. And even with New Jersey’s loss to Cleveland last night, they lead the Nets by just two games.

While the starting backcourt of DeShawn Stevenson and Antonio Daniels watched from the sidelines, players like Roger Mason and Donell Taylor who went long stretches of the season on the inactive list tried their best to stop 2006 NBA Finals MVP Dwyane Wade from helping the Heat clinch at least the fourth seed.

Stevenson, who played just 2:40 in the fourth against the Heat, had no problem with Jordan’s decision, recognizing that Wizards who once were believed to be nothing more than spot players now must contribute.

“I think he did the right thing by playing the bench tonight,” Stevenson said in a somber locker room after the game. “Me personally, I didn’t take anything personal about it. I talked to Antonio about it, and he agreed. When the bench is playing well you’ve got to roll with it.

“As a coach you have to try different things. If he doesn’t, people are going to ask him, ‘Why aren’t you trying different things?’ It’s a Catch-22 for him. It’s a tough situation, and we’ve just got to keep our heads up, smile and work through this.”

One thing Jordan tried with some success was getting center Brendan Haywood back into action. Haywood was pulled from the starting lineup in favor of Etan Thomas on April 1 after Jordan said Haywood wasn’t playing with the requisite energy he needed at the position.

But Haywood played extensively Wednesday and was productive, leading the team in both scoring (14 points) and rebounding (10) in almost 22 minutes.

If he can continue to play with energy, Jordan no doubt will continue to work him into games.

“It felt good to go out there and to help the team and give a good effort. It’s just disappointing that we didn’t win,” Haywood said. “We have to find a way to win games.

“At the end of the day in the NBA, most games come down to the last five minutes. Even the bad teams in the league stay in games until the very end. Normally we have Caron and Gilbert here to do that, but they’re not here now. So Coach has to find the combinations that work.”

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