- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The All-Star break, which begins the moment the game clock in Wachovia Center in Philadelphia strikes 00:00, couldn’t come at a better time for the Washington Wizards.

Losers of four of their last five games by an average of 18.5 points, the Wizards (28-21) aim to enter the break with a win against Philadelphia (17-35) and then regroup for the final 32 games of the season.

“We are going to come out strong against them,” guard Gilbert Arenas said. “We need to come out with this win and go into the All-Star break on a happy note.”

Arenas was all smiles yesterday when talking about the meetings he had Monday with both his teammates and coach Eddie Jordan.

Both Arenas and Jordan maintain their flare-up over the team’s emphasis on defense in the absence of injured forward Antawn Jamison was well behind them.

Now all that matters is beating Philadelphia, which could conceivably have the worst record in the league at season’s end.

“If we can play the way we practice that’s what we’re looking for,” said Jordan, who said the last two days of practice have gone well. “Wins and losses, they come. If we can play the way we practice we’ll be effective.”

The Wizards conducted one more meeting yesterday, bringing together the starters for tonight’s game to discuss strategy. The meeting also included second-year forward Andray Blatche.

Blatche, making his second career start tonight (he started Sunday’s loss to Portland), is the third player Jordan has tried in Jamison’s place. The other two are veterans Calvin Booth and Jarvis Hayes.

Jordan hopes to develop the 20-year-old, 6-foot-11 forward’s confidence now so Blatche will have the experience to play a key role late in the season and perhaps the playoffs.

“He’s getting some experience,” Jordan said. “We think if he continues to get experience and understand what the NBA game is about that his skill level will rise. What he gives us right now in his youth, his good size and his activity. He has a knack for help defense. Hopefully, six or eight weeks down the road he’ll be able to continue to contribute.”

Hayes, meanwhile, celebrates somewhat of a milestone today, a year after his season-ending right knee surgery. Everyone, from Jordan to Hayes, says the guard/forward has completely recovered from the injury.

Jordan suggested yesterday it was time for Hayes, who is averaging a career-low 5.9 points and making just 39.2 percent of his field goals, to begin showing the form that prompted Washington to make him the No. 10 overall pick in 2003.

“I think the time has come where he should feel comfortable,” said Jordan, who will coach the Eastern Conference All-Star team. “We’re in February and it will be March soon. He’s had this much time in the flow of things.

Note — Arenas will take with him to Las Vegas, site of the All-Star Game, 100 jerseys with the word “Agent” over the zero rather than “Arenas.” He plans to toss them to fans and then will wear one in the game Sunday.

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