- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2008

After another frustrating loss, Washington Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott pointed out a problem that has been occurring “with more consistency than I want.”

In the Wizards’ 2-12 start, one of the main offenses is an ability to finish; in eight of the losses, Washington has led or been tied in the fourth quarter. That trend, Tapscott said, is a ripple effect of another issue.

“The real problem is when you get 15 down, by allowing a 6-0 run out of halftime, then all the energy used to bring us back,” Tapscott said. “The game is about ebb and flow, and so you put in all that energy … then they go on their run in the last two minutes of the game to get that separation, then you don’t have enough time to recover. … What is it with how we’re coming out of that locker room that’s allowing these 6-0, 7-0 runs that put us in a hole?”

Slow starts in the third quarter have done the Wizards in. Ten times this season, they have led at halftime, with the average margin five points. Only twice - against Utah and Golden State - have the Wizards taken advantage of those leads and won. Four times they managed to outscore their opponents in the third quarter. The other eight times Washington was outscored in the third quarter.

The Wizards have been outscored 373-297 - an average of 26.6-21.2 - in the third quarter. Then, as Tapscott said, they spend the fourth quarter battling back and often do lead by a basket or two. But they wind up fizzling as one final push by their opponents - along with the spent Wizards’ inability to answer - makes the difference.

“It’s tough to fight back twice,” guard Antonio Daniels said after Saturday’s fourth-quarter collapse against Atlanta. “We pulled together as a team. We fought like crazy to get back in the game. But in this league, when you’re struggling like we are, every play and every possession becomes magnified.”

Guard DeShawn Stevenson called the trend “frustrating,” but captain Antawn Jamison said his team can’t afford to dwell on it.

“That’s an excuse. I mean, we were in the game,” said Jamison, who scored 10 points in the fourth quarter. “We had the opportunity to win the game. So we’ve been through this before. I thought we did a great job as far as keeping our composure throughout the game, not giving up, always staying positive. … You’ve got to find a way to dig down and plug away.”

Tapscott, who gave the team Sunday off, said Monday’s film session will be dedicated to dissecting the Wizards’ third-quarter struggles. Earlier this season, the team consistently fell behind during sluggish first quarters. Six games ago, former coach Eddie Jordan switched to a starting lineup featuring younger, quicker players - point guard Dee Brown and center JaVale McGee.

Since then, the Wizards held a lead at the end of the first quarter in four of six games. Now the Wizards are trying to find a way to translate that to the start of the second half.

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