- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Wizards lacked energy, resolve and a sense of cohesion in their season-opening meeting with the Nets on Wednesday night.

It added up to the Nets 95, Wizards 85.

The Wizards were able to open the season at home for the first time since 1999. Given the way they played, it probably would have been best for them to be on the road and out of sight of the thoroughly disappointed sellout crowd.

It was a dispiriting outcome for the home team, which wants to avoid equaling its 0-5 start last season.

“Character. Commitment. Connection.”

That is the team’s slogan this season.

It also could be: “Injuries. Invalids. Infirmaries.”

The spirit surrounding the opening-night festivities was somewhat understated, possibly because of the anxiety that envelops the franchise. Is the wait on Gilbert Arenas ever going to end? Or is he destined to end up as the Penny Hardaway of his time? Is there an element of injury fatigue, of forever waiting to see what this team could be at full strength?

Those hard notions were tugging on the fans as they made their way into the arena from Abe Pollin’s Fun Street.

Someone named Taurus sang the national anthem, the players and coaches from both teams were introduced and then Caron Butler grabbed a microphone and acknowledged the support of the team’s long-suffering fans.

“Thanks for the support,” Butler said. “Thanks for the love. Let’s get a victory tonight.”

Victory did not come. Nothing is going to be easy for this team. Enough changes have come to the Wizards that duplicating their 43-39 record from a season ago could be difficult.

Juan Dixon is endeavoring to shore up the loss of Roger Mason, and Nick Young is looking to be a more consistent and thoughtful scorer.

Brendan Haywood, who is likely out for the season after tearing a ligament in his right wrist and undergoing surgery, will be missed more than his numbers suggest.

Haywood averaged 1.7 blocks, 10th-best in the NBA, and routinely altered a good number of shots around the basket. Haywood also orchestrated a statistical improbability, raising his previously modest free throw shooting percentage to a respectable .735.

The Wizards shot a franchise-high .782 from the free throw line last season, helping their ability to stay in games and pull out a few wins that otherwise would have gone in the loss column.

The Poet, Haywood’s designated replacement, was a career .598 free throw shooter coming into the season. The Poet, who missed last season after undergoing heart surgery, acquitted himself well against the Nets. He finished with 10 points and eight rebounds, plus converted four of six free throw attempts.

The Wizards could look at the free throw shooting and see a lost opportunity. The Wizards made only 20 of 30 free throw attempts, while the Nets went 15-for-18.

Neither team was especially energetic. Neither team was efficient. If the schedule did not indicate otherwise, a casual observer might have thought the two teams were completing the preseason.

The start of the second quarter was particularly ugly after both coaches employed their bench players.

Andray Blatche, as is his proclivity, would follow up a nice play with a mental blunder. He finished with 13 points, six rebounds and five turnovers in 25 minutes.

The quickness of backup point guard Dee Brown was a pleasant sight in the second half. Brown delivered several nice passes, too, one leading to a Blatche dunk.

But the Wizards could not overcome the rebuilding Nets. That reality did not say much for the prospects of the Wizards.

Butler did not shoot the ball well but still stuffed the stat sheet with 13 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.

With both Butler and Antawn Jamison shooting poorly, the Wizards lacked the resources to stage a fight.

In the waning minutes, it was the Nets who pulled away from the Wizards.

It was a somber opening night.

Perhaps the fans thought they were viewing a funeral.

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