- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 28, 2007

BOSTON — After the Phoenix Suns came to the District earlier this week and smacked down the Washington Wizards, there were some questions about why the Wizards weren’t hanging their heads.

After all, not only had they lost to the hottest team in the league, but now they were in the middle of preparing for a game against the Detroit Pistons, the best in the Eastern Conference over the last five years. The Wizards were primed to drop a second straight game.

But the Wizards (25-17) have been a resilient team this season, which accounts for them having the best record in the Eastern Conference. They responded with a hard-fought victory, and today they will try to throttle a team they are favored to beat.

“We’re going to get a young and feisty Boston team,” Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas said. ‘They came into our place and they gave us a scuffle. We need to go in there and play tough.”

That has been the nature of the Wizards this season. They have lost back-to-back just once since Nov. 25.

“We’ve been very resilient this season,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “We’ve got good leadership out of people like Antawn [Jamison]. It’s just the competitive nature of this team.”

Since losing four straight to fall to 4-9, the Wizards are 21-8. In that time they’ve shown a remarkable ability to bounce back after a loss and play a strong game. In that span, their only back-to-back losses were when they seemed to overlook injury-depleted New Orleans/Oklahoma City and lost at San Antonio the next night.

The Wizards rebounded from that 93-80 loss with four straight wins — including victories over Western Conference power Utah and a rout of Orlando — before the Suns destroyed them.

The Wizards have at times this season played down to the level of their competition, which was probably the case when they played host to the Celtics on Jan. 20. The Wizards were toying with the Celtics — still without key players Paul Pierce and Wally Szczerbiak — building a first-half lead that reached 21 points.

But the Wizards didn’t maintain their intensity against Boston and were forced to win the game in overtime.

And the Celtics (12-30) — the last-place team in the woeful Atlantic Division — haven’t won since.

Boston’s last win came against at Memphis on Jan. 5, and its 10-game losing streak is the longest since 1999-2000. In the Celtics’ last game — a 96-90 loss to the Toronto Raptors — they gave up 19 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

“Every game is just so tough right now,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “We’re so mistake-prone because who we are sometimes.”

That is just the opposite of the way things have been going for the Wizards this season. Not only did they outplay the Pistons in Detroit — thus giving the Wizards back-to-back wins in Detroit in the last two seasons — but they did it with poise, committing a season-low seven turnovers.

“A lot of those good things are happening for us because we’re more mature than we were last season,” Wizards forward Caron Butler said. “That’s why we cant afford to let up no matter who we play.”

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