- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2008

Shortly after the Washington Wizards suffered a 100-97 loss to the visiting Charlotte Bobcats on March 8, team captain Antawn Jamison stressed the importance of a strong turnaround in the next week.

The Wizards, who had played eight of 12 games on the road in February, had their longest homestand since December coming up and needed to take advantage of it before a stretch that included seven of eight games on the road, including five against Western Conference teams.

“This is definitely an important stretch for us,” Jamison said. “We have a tough West Coast trip coming up, and we definitely need to be two or three games above .500 before we hit that trip.”

The Wizards indeed have rebounded, and Saturday’s 119-109 overtime win over the Los Angeles Clippers gave them their first three-game winning streak since mid-January. With a win tonight against the visiting Hawks, they can improve to 34-32. It would be the first time since Feb. 3 that Washington has been two games above .500, and it would give the Wizards momentum as they head to Orlando on Wednesday and then play at Miami on Friday before returning to Verizon Center against Detroit on Sunday.

The streak has come even though the Wizards — who have won eight of their last 11 — still aren’t fully healthy. A back strain has bothered Jamison, Antonio Daniels has a sprained thumb and wrist, DeShawn Stevenson has a sore knee and Caron Butler — who just returned from a 16-game absence with a labral tear in his hip — now has a sprained left wrist and had his left knee bound with an ice pack after Saturday’s game. And center Brendan Haywood missed the Clippers game with a strained patella tendon in his left knee.

To help his team recharge, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan gave his players the day off from practice yesterday.

“Guys are toughing it out,” Jordan said.

When asked how he was doing, the coach laughed. “I’m fine! After a win, I’m always fine.”

Young coming of age

When the Wizards drafted Nick Young with the 16th pick in last summer’s draft, team officials praised the Southern Cal product’s ability to create his own shot, which they expected would help him become a productive scorer off the bench this season.

But the rookie struggled with the pace of the NBA game during the first half of the season and failed to produce consistently. At times, Young appeared out of control on the court and tended to force things.

But it seems as if that’s no longer the case. Since the March 5 game against Orlando, the shooting guard has morphed into a key threat off the bench. In his last six games, Young has averaged 13.7 points in 22.5 minutes.

Jordan called Young’s recent play what the team needs and joked that the transformation is a result of the rookie getting tired of the coach getting on him so often for miscues.

Young credited the support of his veteran teammates and Jordan’s guidance for his maturation.

“I’ve just been getting my confidence up, being patient but aggressive, too. I’m learning from the best,” said Young, who works out regularly with Gilbert Arenas. “And Coach [Jordan] has been behind me, telling me to play, running plays for me, and that helps me get in a rhythm.”

Today’s game

ATLANTA HAWKS AT WASHINGTON WIZARDS

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Verizon Center

TV/radio: CSN, AM-980

Probable starters: Hawks — F Marvin Williams, F Josh Smith, C Al Horford, G Joe Johnson, G Mike Bibby. Wizards — F Antawn Jamison, F Caron Butler, C Brendan Haywood, G Antonio Daniels, G DeShawn Stevenson.

Injuries: Hawks — G Speedy Claxton (knee). Wizards — G Gilbert Arenas (knee), C Etan Thomas (heart surgery).

Outlook: This is the fourth and final meeting this season between Washington and Atlanta. The Wizards enter the game with a 2-1 record against the visiting Hawks this season. Washington also has won seven of the last eight meetings with Atlanta in the District. … The Wizards can improve to two games above .500 for the first time since Feb. 3 when they were 24-22. … Atlanta is tied for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot despite owning a 28-38 record. …The Hawks are 6-11 since acquiring point guard Mike Bibby in a trade from the Kings last month.

Mike Jones

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