- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Staring at a daunting schedule that includes only one home game in the next eight and possibly playing that stretch without their rehabilitating franchise scorer, the Washington Wizards had every reason to play with a sense of urgency last night against the Atlanta Hawks.

Instead, the Wizards allowed Atlanta to shoot 55.4 percent.

Instead, the Wizards missed seven consecutive shots down the stretch.

Instead, the Wizards led for exactly 52 seconds in a listless 105-96 loss to the Hawks at a hushed Verizon Center.

“We came out and went through the motions,” Antawn Jamison said. “We came out sluggish at both ends of the floor. … Defensively, we weren’t in sync at all. We didn’t play smart basketball.”

Washington (33-33) saw its three-game winning streak end. The Wizards are a half-game behind the Toronto Raptors, who lost last night at Utah, and are only a half-game ahead of surging Philadelphia for the sixth position.

The Wizards, evicted from their home arena by the NCAA tournament and the circus for all but a Sunday night date against Detroit, will fly to Orlando today knowing guard Gilbert Arenas is unlikely to play this week and Caron Butler and Antonio Daniels are being limited with left wrist injuries. And when they get to Florida, coach Eddie Jordan will institute a curfew.

“Look, it could be a shot in the dark,” he said. “I could be totally wrong, and we’ll go in there and get blown out by 30.”

An MRI on Arenas’ surgically repaired left knee came back clean yesterday, and he will ratchet up his practice work. Jordan called the injuries to Butler and Daniels “a big, big issue.”

Jamison led the Wizards with 25 points. Brendan Haywood scored 16 but only two in the second half. Five Atlanta players reached double figures, led by Mike Bibby’s 23 points. The Hawks (29-38) assumed a one-game lead over New Jersey for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Wizards’ “big, big issue” last night was defense. The Hawks’ shooting percentage was the eighth highest for a Washington opponent this season. Atlanta made 14 of its first 25 shots and 20 of its final 38.

Still, the Wizards had a shot. A layup by Darius Songaila and a 3-pointer by DeShawn Stevenson moved the Wizards to within five points at 93-88 with 7:16 remaining.

The Wizards made only two field goals the rest of the game. Atlanta sealed the game with 2:39 remaining on Joe Johnson’s baseline jumper, making it 100-92. Johnson scored 18 points and dished out 10 assists.

“We just couldn’t get a handle on their top scorers,” Jordan said. “We couldn’t stop their ability to pass through our pick-and-roll defense. When they posted up, if we didn’t play one on one, they were scoring. When we double teamed, they moved the ball and found the open guy.”

Bibby, who was acquired from the Sacramento Kings at the trade deadline, has obviously made an impact on the Hawks. Atlanta promptly lost four of its next five, but it has won three straight.

“Bibby’s a veteran and knows how to play,” Haywood said. “He’s one of the best spot-up shooters in the league. He gives them an added dimension.”

Echoing Jamison’s assessment — that the Wizards were sleep-walking — Daniels added: “They were getting whatever they wanted and we didn’t bring the intensity we needed to bring, and they made us pay for it by hitting timely shots and getting offensive rebounds. We couldn’t get the stop we needed to get over the hump.”

The Wizards’ only two leads were early in the third quarter at 55-54 and 57-56.

“They played very well, and we didn’t play as well as we should have,” Jordan said. “I’m giving them a lot of credit and yet not beating our guys up.”

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