- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 27, 2008

The frustration continues to mount with each loss for the Washington Wizards.

After their late-game collapse Thursday at Cleveland, Washington has lost eight straight and owns an Eastern Conference-worst 4-23 record. But to cope with the 93-89 defeat and avoid complacency, the Wizards headed back to the District early Friday, trying to draw positives from their 13th defeat this season that came after they held a fourth-quarter lead.

“I would say losing is painful always, but if you walk out of here [Thursday night], you’ve got to at least think your head’s held up high because of the effort. You just played one best teams in the league,” Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott said. “You feel better about this than you would a blowout where now you’re struggling to find anything to say, ‘Hey, this could be an opportunity for us to see what we can do.’

“So I’m going to say, ‘Look at the standard we set for ourselves against a team that’s got this type of record. There’s no excuse for any less standard against anybody else’ - and that is what I’m going to hammer every day from now on.”

Among the positives was a fast start in which the Wizards jumped out to a 14-4 advantage - their best opening act in some time - and led after one quarter. With leading scorer Caron Butler held to just six points, point guard Mike James proved he can help Antawn Jamison shoulder the scoring load.

James’ 22 second-half points sparked a rally that helped give Washington an 89-82 lead with 1:40 left to play.

Center Andray Blatche again offered solid contributions with 12 points - his fourth double-digit game in six starts - and six rebounds. And second-year forward Dominic McGuire grabbed 11 rebounds - his second double-digit effort in as many starts - and added seven assists.

“There’s no excuse why we shouldn’t play like that every night and come out on top, even with the guys that we have healthy right now,” McGuire said. “I’m feeling more comfortable; I’m just trying to impact the game without scoring the ball. We’ve got enough scorers out there.”

Said James: “It’s a tough pill to swallow, but to play against a team that’s doing as well as they’re doing and playing them the way we played them, if we can be motivated to come into every game and approach every game with the same concentration, hopefully we can take this loss and carry it over into something positive in the future for us.”

The Wizards know moral victories count for little, however, and the sense of urgency remains high. Oklahoma City visits Verizon Center on Saturday; getting a win is crucial because there’s little relief in sight after that. Next comes a stretch with games against Houston, New Orleans, Boston, Cleveland and Orlando - four of those on the road. The Wizards don’t face a team that currently has a losing record until they host Toronto on Jan. 7.

A timetable has yet to be set for Gilbert Arenas’ return, and there are rumblings within the organization over whether the guard will or should return at all if the season continues to erode. But for the Wizards’ healthy players, the goal is to continue battling until they break through.

“The main thing is to continue to stay aggressive,” James said. “I’m trying to be a leader and help this team get W’s.

“I haven’t won a game yet in a Wizard uniform, so I’m looking forward to the time that we can string some wins together.”

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