- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2007

Gilbert Arenas suggested on his NBA.com blog that he might go for 50 against the moribund Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.

Even if Arenas lights up the Blazers and his team rolls, there still is no mistaking the state of the Washington Wizards: This is a team in trouble without Antawn Jamison.

Arenas has scored 50 or more points three times already this season. But as badly as the Wizards have played since Jamison suffered a sprained left knee, Arenas easily could get his 50 and another YouTube moment and see the Wizards lose.

The San Antonio Spurs obliterated the Wizards 110-83 in Washington’s fourth game without Jamison, who is the team captain but still somehow an underappreciated player.

Jamison was injured in a knee-to-knee collision with teammate DeShawn Stevenson in a victory over the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 30. The Wizards have won just one of four games since — and the victory Monday over the struggling Seattle SuperSonics was misleading.

The Sonics were playing without forward Rashard Lewis , and they left the District carrying with them an ugly piece of baggage: a franchise-record 15th straight loss on the road, one that eclipsed a mark that stood for 30 years.

The Wizards won comfortably (118-108) and received solid performances from their ancillary players for the first time since Jamison got hurt. Center Brendan Haywood scored 20 points and pulled in 11 rebounds for his first 20-and-10 game in more than two years, and second-year forward Andray Blatche also reached a career-high with 14 points.

The shine quickly wore off as the Spurs handed the Wizards a 27-point loss that equaled their worst defeat of the season.

Jamison was playing at an All-Star level before the injury occurred, averaging 19.3 points and 7.9 rebounds and coming off 35- and 34-point efforts in back-to-back games.

But this isn’t the way he wanted his team to learn how much it needed him.

“I knew my place and I have always known how valuable I am to this team,” Jamison said. “It’s not like I’m saying, ‘Yeah, see, I told you so.’ I’m way past and beyond that. It’s all about winning.”

That has proved difficult without him.

The Wizards lost those three games without Jamison by an average of 17.5 points.

Washington, awful all season on defense, allowed opponents to shoot 54.7 percent from the floor in the past four games—a steep increase from the season average of 47.4 percent. No opponent has converted less than 51.9 percent of its attempts in the past four games.

The Wizards, not surprisingly, also are giving up more points. They have surrendered an average of 106.3 points a game for the season but have allowed nearly 110 points a game without Jamison.

Jamison hardly is a defensive stopper. But he does bring a stability that flows into other aspects of the game. No one tries to overcompensate when Jamison is in the lineup, and the game comes much easier for other players.

Jordan preaches that he wants players to stay in their comfort zone on offense, but the absence of Jamison makes that impossible. The Wizards can replace his 19 points and eight boards, but they cannot replace the threat Jamison poses to score at any time from any place on the floor.

As a result, the wide-open court is gone. All that beautiful spacing Jordan’s offense produces when it is run with precision by his core players has vanished.

Now, teams can run two or three defenders at Arenas on every possession, and they’ve done so with good results.

Arenas scored an average of 27.3 points over the past four games, not far off his season average of 29.4. His shooting percentage over those games, however, is just 36 percent, a sharp decline from his season mark of 42.4.

His performance from long range also has suffered. Arenas shot only 25 percent from behind the 3-point line in the past four games, a big drop from his 37.3 percentage for the season.

The only solution for the Wizards — other than an early return by Jamison — is for other players to make themselves more of a threat.

They need for Haywood to continue to be active underneath, and they need Jarvis Hayes to shake his season-long shooting slump (39.3) and begin playing like the 10th overall pick in the 2003 draft that he was.

That would be much more useful for the Wizards than a 50-point night by Arenas in a losing effort.

Note —Arenas will be among the players trying to unseat reigning champion Dirk Nowitzki in this year’s Foot Locker 3-Point Shootout during All-Star Weekend.

Arenas, who will start in the Feb. 19 game at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, finished second to Nowitzki in last season’s shooting contest.

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