- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 24, 2009

LOS ANGELES | When the Washington Wizards suffered a 117-97 thumping by the Los Angeles Lakers the night after beating the Sacramento Kings, it marked the continuation of a familiar theme.

One step forward, two - or three or four - steps back.

In losing Thursday night at Staples Center, the Wizards (9-33) failed for the seventh time this season to win back-to-back games. Victories have been hard enough to come by, but only once this season have the Wizards won twice in a row - Dec. 27 and 29, when they followed a home win against Oklahoma City with a victory at Houston. Thursday’s defeat also dropped the Wizards to 0-8 in the second game of a back-to-back.

Interim coach Ed Tapscott said it all should be taken with a grain of salt, however.

“It was the Lakers - a team that was in the NBA Finals last year and again are one of the elite teams in the league,” he said, noting that if the Wizards had played a lesser opponent, he would have liked his team’s chances “a lot more.”

The Wizards’ main problem was themselves, captain Antawn Jamison said. True, the Lakers were overpowering, but the caliber of opponent wasn’t the cause of the Wizards’ lack of focus and discipline. Their demise began when Tapscott began integrating reserves into the lineup; that brought blown defensive assignments in transition, a failure to contest shooters on the perimeter and a drop-off in ball movement and execution on the offensive end.

All those factors caused the contest to go from manageable - when Washington trailed 31-24 after one quarter - to completely out of hand. In the second quarter, the Lakers torched the Wizards for 41 points on 75 percent shooting en route to a 72-47 halftime lead.

“The type of mistakes we made? I mean, you know in transition you might not have your man, but at least get a man,” Jamison said. “Don’t just let somebody go through the lane uncontested. We can’t build on wins. We can’t bring it on back-to-back nights. Our young guys, we don’t focus before the games. Yeah, our record is what it is, but you have to treat it as a job.

“You can’t be in here before games dancing, worrying where your ticket [requests] are. I mean, it’s the Lakers, you’re playing on TNT, nationally televised - and you’re not focusing? But that’s where we are.”

Jamison and his fellow veterans have repeatedly called upon the younger players to improve their focus and professionalism, and they have at times responded positively - but only for short stretches. Then there are lapses that ultimately end up costing the Wizards.

“I can’t yell,” Jamison said. “We’ve done all the yelling we can do. We just have to keep playing and, I guess, hope things improve.”

Tapscott said there is no easy solution for the Wizards’ woes. The ups and downs will continue as Washington’s six players with four years of experience or less - Andray Blatche, Dominic McGuire, Nick Young, Javaris Crittenton, Oleksiy Pecherov and JaVale McGee - become more seasoned.

Tapscott drew positives from Thursday’s fourth quarter, when McGuire, Young, Crittenton, Pecherov and McGee played almost exclusively. Although they didn’t run many plays and the flow resembled a pickup game, they actually outscored their Lakers counterparts 29-20. McGee had 10 points and four rebounds in the quarter; Crittenton notched eight points, five rebounds and three assists.

“I was happy with their play and told them that after the game,” Tapscott said. “If I could clone Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler and make a roster of 12 of them, I would. Maybe a few little taller and a little shorter.

“But there’s no cavalry coming across the horizon tomorrow to give us salvation. So we’ve got to do it with what we’ve got - improve and evolve. That’s the only way.”

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