- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Wizards open the regular season tonight with the conviction that they are right and the NBA world is wrong.

The Wizards have received scant amount of love in the preseason from the professional prognosticators of America.

The Wizards mostly have been lumped among the nobodies, dysfunctional and irrelevant, harsh treatment for a team that had the top record in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star break last season before injuries extinguished all hope.

The Wizards have 82 games to address the slights and answer the question of what they want to be in the seasons ahead.

Gilbert Arenas plans to opt out of his contract after the season, while Antawn Jamison becomes a free agent.

Their plans will be shaped by the quality of the season, the same as Ernie Grunfeld, assuming injuries are not part of the evaluation process.

Injuries spoiled the evaluation process last season, although Grunfeld and Eddie Jordan opted on the side of continuity, chemistry and what seemed obvious before Jamison was felled by injury, followed by Caron Butler and Arenas.

It could have been the conference of the Wizards. It also could have been fool’s gold, considering the pronounced difference between the regular season and the postseason.

Whatever the case, the Wizards are not nearly as inept as the crystal-ball gazers have made them out to be and hardly subservient to what passes as the elite in the conference, whether the Cavaliers, Pistons, Bulls or Celtics.

If the Wizards fail to forge a place in the top three of the conference and are eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, Grunfeld will be obligated to re-examine his previously held beliefs.

With the Celtics being one barometer of excellence in the conference because of the fantasy uniting of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, I still prefer Arenas, Butler and Jamison, the charge of Fun Street-induced bias accepted.

John Hollinger, the ESPN.com guru who predicts injuries in addition to team records from his ledge on Mount Zeus, envisions all kinds of physical calamities befalling the Wizards.

That thinking should apply to the Celtics more than the Wizards if you consider the age of the respective Big Threes. Pierce is the baby of his trio at 30. Arenas is 25, Butler 27.

Brendan Haywood could become essential to the team’s cause this season if he is in the mood, which certainly has been improved because of the absence of the Poet, and not that anyone wishes a heart procedure on a rival.

At least the Poet is well on his way to recovering, feisty as ever, judging from his cyberspace love letters to Ivan Carter, The Washington Post beat writer who searched the archives and found the names of other basketball players with heart issues.

That is what reporters do. They find precedents, unnerving though a few of those precedents may be.

Jordan stressed defense in the preseason, as is his proclivity each October. Not that anyone expects the message to take in persuasive fashion, barring a change in the resolve of Arenas. It is his team, of course, and the team draws part of its personality from him.

Jordan possibly may have his deepest bench during his tenure in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood. Andray Blatche has done his part to keep hope alive there.

Antonio Daniels and Darius Songaila remain constants, while Oleksiy Pecherov starts out on crutches.

I see this team finishing with 50 wins, or thereabouts, and advancing to the conference semifinals. This particular tarot-card reading comes with a warning: I interpreted a similar outcome last season. But then I am reading these cards with the help of a psychic on Wisconsin Avenue instead of with the help of charts, graphs and slide rules on Mount Zeus.

Such a finish would please all the parties who matter and set the Wizards in the path of the Bulls in the seasons ahead.



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