- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Lost in all the scuttlebutt of the Washington Wizards being days away from announcing the hiring of Flip Saunders as their next coach is that the Wizards are fighting for a small consolation prize.

When the Wizards take on the Boston Celtics at TD Banknorth Garden on Wednesday night, it will represent their final opportunity to avoid tying the 2000-01 team for the worst record in franchise history.

The Wizards appeared poised to dodge the mark Monday night when they held a 13-point lead over the Toronto Raptors with six minutes left to play. But in typical fashion, Washington squandered the lead and lost on a Chris Bosh 3-pointer with nine seconds left.

With the Celtics locked in as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and owning the third-best record in the NBA and with the status of leading scorer Antawn Jamison (ankle) in doubt, it appears the Wizards blew their best chance to pick up their 20th victory of the season.

“It'd mean a lot, but it is what it is,” team captain Caron Butler said. “Obviously, you'd rather not be associated as the team to not make it to the playoffs and with the worst record in franchise history, but at the same time you can hold your head high because you never gave up on the challenge, went out there night in and night out, suited up and were a professional.”

Maintaining that professional focus could be challenging, however.

“It's very difficult, but we've got a job to do as professionals despite what the record is and not being front-runners,” Butler said. “Everybody looks good when everything's going good, but a lot of people can't weather the storm. But I think we've done a good job battling and keeping the locker room together.”

Maintaining focus was hard enough for the Wizards on Monday night at Verizon Center, where the mood both before and after the loss had the feel of a deathwatch. Interim coach Ed Tapscott tried to deflect questions about his potential successor and his own future role with the team both in his pregame and postgame press conferences.

“For me, it's about focusing on finishing the season as strong as possible and winning this last game. That's where I am right now,” he said.

Some Wizards players followed suit. When asked of his thoughts on Saunders, center Brendan Haywood said, “I don't comment on potential head coaches when we still have a head coach.”

Butler did comment, taking the opportunity to both express appreciation for Tapscott and respect for Saunders' body of work.

“It's been special playing for him for me. I've got thick skin, but at the same time, I've been going through a lot mentally and physically. And to have someone like that who's well-educated and always knows what to say… I love Tap,” Butler said. “And Flip's a great coach as well. He's very offensive-minded, and seeing the things he did in Minnesota and obviously Detroit, so who knows?

“But we've still got another challenge ahead of us - the champs - and hopefully we can go out there, compete at a high level and get a win.”

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