- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Wizards are wedged between the rock of another giveaway loss and the hard place of a season that is approaching unsalvageable.

The Wizards are on a 26-win pace, about half the number of victories that were expected going into the season. To reach the 50-win mark, they would have to play at a .717 clip the rest of the way and close with a 43-17 surge.

That is a highly unlikely prospect, judging from the first 22 games of the season.

Give the Bad News Wizards this: They are creative in defeat, none more inventive than the loss at home to the Pacers on Saturday.

The Wizards eventually could find creative ways to win, but that won’t undo the damage of their dreary start.

Their playoff hopes remain viable, if only because four sub-.500 teams could qualify for the postseason from the Eastern Conference.

A four-game winning streak would restore their playoff vigor, if it matters in the spring considering what would await an eighth or seventh seed: a first-round date with the Celtics, Magic or Cavaliers.

That would be a mentally deflating position, given the team’s fanciful preseason talk of pushing into the conference’s top tier.

The team that has done that is from Atlanta, a previously irrelevant NBA city since the days of Dominique Wilkins.

The Hawks have an abundance of energy that the Wizards would be wise to channel. That might help them with their slow starts or sluggish second quarters or unsteady finishes.

If it is not one thing with the Wizards, it is another.

The another is often Gilbert Arenas, whom the Wizards are waiting on anew.

Arenas may be on the court in body, but no one is touting his chances of appearing in a fourth All-Star Game.

He has had a couple of games, a couple of flashes, a couple of moments. Mostly, though, he is left with a disbelieving look, whether it is directed at a referee who has made a disagreeable call or at a teammate who went one way while the pass went the other.

His surgically repaired left knee apparently is sturdy, receptive to back-to-back engagements. Yet no player eliminates two seasons’ worth of inactivity in 22 games. Arenas just might end up needing most of the season to reclaim that which he once was, if he is destined to return to his previous self.

That, too, is an open question.

Not that Flip Saunders thought it was a concern before accepting the coaching job.

He has insisted all along that Arenas will get all the way back.

That is a reassuring dynamic, for Saunders has staked his future on Arenas.

The Wizards have, too.

This is not to count out Arenas; it is just a recognition of the challenge before him, which is draining the team.

As long as Arenas is out of sorts, stuck on uncertain, the Wizards are conditioned to follow his lead.

It would be no different with any other NBA team featuring a scaled-down version of a franchise player.

It is on Arenas to make plays in the closing minutes of games, to hit big shots and to cripple the opposition’s defense. He is not doing those things these days.

That is why no one can be too critical of Earl Boykins and the turnover he committed in the final seconds against the Clippers on Monday.

Boykins was not on anyone’s radar in the upbeat days of training camp. That he has been entrusted with finishing games is a response to the shortcomings that afflict the point-guard position.

Boykins has handled the assignment with a certain efficiency but hardly in the manner of the old Arenas.

That guy is not with the Wizards at the moment.

The person who is passing himself off as Arenas is missing his shooting legs, his lift at the basket, his timing, his feel for the game.

That is his two-year debt to an unfeeling game.

• Tom Knott can be reached at tknott@washingtontimes.com.

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