- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2008

ORLANDO, Fla. | Caron Butler stood outside the visitors locker room at Amway Arena, eyes closed and rubbing his head as he offered his assessment of the Washington Wizards‘ 106-81 loss to the Orlando Magic.

Butler’s head was still pounding from a head-to-head collision with Orlando’s Mickael Pietrus late in the second quarter Saturday night. The blow left a deep gash just above his left eye. Nearly as painful as the wound was his team’s performance - and its 0-5 record.

“I’m willing to do whatever it takes - whether it’s go get 20, 30 rebounds, whether it’s put up the points or be a playmaker for the most part,” Butler said. “But my blood pressure’s building, and it’s only so much longer I can wait before I just …”

Butler stopped short, took a breath and continued.

“You don’t want to take too much on yourself,” he said. “But at the same time, you want the results.”

Washington has lost its first five games for the second consecutive season, but this year is different. Last year, the Wizards’ slow start was attributed to installing a new defensive system in training camp and devoting so much time to learning it that the offense lagged. This season, the Wizards believed they had progressed defensively. They believed continuity on both ends of the floor would help them get off to a better start despite the absences of guard Gilbert Arenas and center Brendan Haywood.

So much for that.

This season, the Wizards have given up 108.8 points a game, compared with the 104.2 they allowed in last season’s 0-5 start. The Wizards have scored more points - 97.4 compared with 90.4 - but have not gotten consistent production from their starters. They have needed significant contributions from the bench, but other than guards Nick Young and Juan Dixon, that area has been marked by erratic play.

The Wizards haven’t panicked but admit a sense of urgency is starting to kick in. They already have suffered losses to teams with worse records last year - New Jersey, Milwaukee and New York - and the schedule isn’t about to get any easier.

Utah (5-1) visits Wednesday, then come two games against an improved Miami and a trip to Atlanta.

“We’ve got to find a way - and find a way soon. And if not, we’ll be in a deep hole,” guard DeShawn Stevenson said. “We’ve got a lot of good teams coming up, and it’s getting serious now.”

The lack of offensive flow is puzzling, the players said, considering they reached the playoffs with Arenas sidelined for 69 games last season. The bigger problem, however, is defense. Haywood’s absence after wrist surgery has been cited as the cause of some of the problems, but other assignments are being missed, details have been neglected and commitment has been inconsistent.

“I’m confident with what we have, but when are we going to get what we need to get to get it done?” Jamison said. “When are we going to realize that we can’t let guys penetrate on you, can’t let guys control the paint, can’t let guys hit open jump shots after open jump shots? It’s the little things.”

On Friday, coach Eddie Jordan said he challenged his players to assume a playoff-like focus. Now that it’s 0-5, Butler said the team’s sense of urgency must kick in. Butler and Jamison agreed that the shortcomings aren’t the fault of the coaching staff but rather a matter of drive and commitment by the players.

“The makeup of the locker room - the environment of the locker room - needs to change,” Jamison said. “I’m not saying that it’s almost like it’s acceptable, but guys are not upset, guys are not hurt. That’s not what it’s all about.”


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