- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2009

As if the Washington Wizards needed another reminder of how far they have plunged from last season’s 43-39 campaign, Roger Mason Jr. returned to Verizon Center and lit up his former team for 25 points - 21 more than the Wizards’ four healthy guards combined.

Mason made nine of 15 field goal attempts for the San Antonio Spurs, including a 5-for-9 performance from 3-point range. And Mike James, Nick Young, Javaris Crittenton and Juan Dixon teamed up to make just two of 18 field goals and missed all five 3-point attempts.

“It is what it is right now, and we know where our problems lie,” forward Antawn Jamison said after the Wizards posted the third-lowest scoring output in franchise history in a 98-67 loss. “It’s been going on all season. It’s not like this is the first game.”

Indeed, the Wizards have lacked a scoring punch out of their backcourt the entire season. When Wizards owner Abe Pollin and president Ernie Grunfeld decided last summer to let Mason walk rather than go over the NBA’s luxury tax spending cap, the belief was that franchise player Gilbert Arenas would make a healthy return from two knee surgeries and that Nick Young, who would be entering his second season as a pro, would fill the reliable reserve scoring role Mason held.

So much for that.

Arenas had to have a third knee surgery in the offseason and has yet to return to action for the 13-43 Wizards. Young remains wildly erratic, posting a string of double-digit scoring performances followed by a run of paltry efforts plagued by poor shot selection.

Antonio Daniels and DeShawn Stevenson opened the season as the starting backcourt. Stevenson stumbled at the start, then Daniels was traded for James, who was expected to add a scoring punch. Stevenson, meanwhile, has battled a pinched nerve in his back and has played only twice in the past 26 games.

James seemed ready to fill the void for the Wizards, averaging 12.6 points a game in his first month with Washington, but since the New Year has been mired in a slump. Dixon was signed just before training camp to help the Wizards cope without Arenas, but his minutes and production have fluctuated greatly - and he has played in only 13 of the last 26 games.

And while Crittenton is developing as a point guard in his second season, he isn’t a scorer - averaging just 3.8 points on 43 percent shooting.

And so when Mason - in the midst of a career season - went off against the Wizards, there was a twinge of what-if.

“Of course,” Butler said. “You always wish you had a good player like that, but [it’s] the business side of basketball - unfortunately you don’t get to play with the guys you would’ve liked to play with.”

Jamison, who already has voiced to Grunfeld his concerns that the Wizards make moves in the offseason to upgrade at key spots, said his teammates must step up down the stretch if they hope to be a part of the Wizards’ future.

“There are a lot of things that are going to be dealt with in the offseason, and we’ve got a lot of guys in here that need to understand the severity of what we’re dealing with,” Jamison said. “They need to realize the importance of the situation they’re put in and take advantage of where they’re at and not only improve as individuals but help improve this team as well.”

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