- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2009

The Washington Wizards returned to practice Thursday in preparation for their game against the Bulls amid buzz that another visitor with Chicago ties will be on hand Friday at Verizon Center - President Barack Obama.

Wizards employees were instructed to expect heavy security, and customers using Verizon Center’s underground parking lot received notice that their vehicles will be subject to searches and they could face delays.

It would mark the first time since he was elected that Obama has attended a game played by the Wizards, whose owner Abe Pollin was a campaign donor. Pollin also has extended an invitation for the president, an avid basketball fan and player, to use the team’s practice facilities for pickup games if he desires.

The feeling in the Wizards’ locker room was, well, slightly mixed.

“The way we’ve been performing lately, I don’t know about that,” said Antawn Jamison, who let out a chuckle before continuing. “But it’d be special, the first time being in his presence and so forth, and having the new president here would be awesome. … I hope [reports of Obama’s attendance] are correct, and I’ll do 360s and windmills for him tomorrow.”

Wizards coach Ed Tapscott said he would welcome Obama but wouldn’t feel any extra pressure with him in attendance.

“Oh, not at all. I would imagine the first fan wants to be the first fan,” Tapscott said. “If he wants to draw up a play, I’ll certainly take it. I know he’s a Bulls fan, but I figure he has to be professionally neutral. He is a resident of Washington, D.C., now. It would be terrific and obviously great atmosphere for the fans and for our franchise and even for our players if it does happen.”

With the 13-44 Wizards suffering through an abysmal season of injuries and inexperience, Tapscott was asked who has the tougher job: Obama, who is trying to rescue the economy, or the coach, who is trying to fix the Wizards after taking over a 1-10 team.

“Well, he got his stimulus package, and I’m still looking for mine. He got his the first week, and I’m still working on mine,” Tapscott said, laughing. “Suffice to say his job is infinitely more difficult than mine, but I’m feeling his pain.”

The lone ‘silver lining’

With the Wizards slogging their way through the historically bad season, perhaps the only positive development has been the continued maturity of second-year small forward Dominic McGuire.

Charged by Tapscott to take on the role of defensive enforcer and garbage man, McGuire - who has started a career-high 32 games - continues to hustle, focusing on grabbing rebounds and guarding the opponents’ top offensive threat while spending little energy on his offensive game.

“It’s awesome. He’s one of the young guys that you trust night in and night out,” said Jamison, who has been harsh in his criticism of his younger, struggling teammates. “He’s going to bring it, give you 100 percent, play with the energy and effort you need. That’s what I like, a young guy who’s going to come out and play, not make any excuses or not keep his head down if you say something to him.”

Tapscott doesn’t draw up plays for McGuire, but since the All-Star break he has pushed McGuire to help out on the offensive end by grabbing rebounds and scoring “energy points.” McGuire is averaging 3.9 points and 5.1 rebounds this season but has seen a spike in his numbers in his last four games: 8.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.3 blocks.

“If there is a silver lining in what wasn’t something I’m happy with, it was that Dom did seem to be one of the guys that brings energy and focus,” Tapscott said after Wednesday’s 106-98 loss to Philadelphia, a game in which McGuire matched a career high with 14 points and added 14 rebounds.

“I don’t think there was hardly anyone on the floor that he didn’t have a hand in trying to defend, in addition to playing with the type of energy that allows you to get 14 points and also get the type of points we need. Right now, we have a lot of guys with their hands ready, running to the ball. The thing Dom does is run to the rim, and that’s the lesson some other guys need to learn.”

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