- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2009

Shortly after their 25-point thumping at the hands of the Boston Celtics, the Washington Wizards began trying to put the loss behind them and turn their attention to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who visit Verizon Center on Sunday.

Although the Wizards lost 92-89 at Cleveland on Christmas Day, that performance inspires more pleasant thoughts than those from the Celtics debacle. The underdog Wizards went into Cleveland and nearly pulled off an upset. After trailing in the first half, the Wizards used a third-quarter charge to overtake the Cavaliers.

Washington led with six minutes left before seeing their advantage slip away. The squandered opportunity produced a positive, however: The Wizards corrected some of their shortcomings in the defeat and won two of their next three. Now the Wizards hope they can shrug off a lopsided loss in Boston and pick up where they had left off.

“I’m ready to get this out of my mouth and start playing good basketball again and really start competing out there,” forward Antawn Jamison said. “It’s always over the course of 82 [games] where you have four or five games that don’t go [right] at all. I think this is probably our fourth or fifth game, so we have no more left the rest of the season, so just get it out of our system. Get ready to go first thing Sunday and try to change our fortunes there.”

Jamison and the Wizards are preparing for a battle; Cleveland’s players likely are, too. Before Christmas, the perception was that, with the Cavaliers boasting one of the league’s best records and Washington owning one of the worst, the teams’ rivalry had fizzled. But the Wizards, who have faced Cleveland three consecutive years in the postseason, proved they still match up well with LeBron James and Co.

“We’ll certainly reference [the strong play against Cleveland] more than we’ll reference [the loss at Boston],” Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott said. “As I say to the guys, in the NBA you always have a chance to re-prove yourself and to pull yourself together and compete because there’s another game coming. We need to pull ourselves together, get some work done and improve at what we do and how we do it.”

One of the ways the Wizards appear to be improving is the increasing comfort level their younger players have developed. After going through a minor slump, second-year guard Nick Young scored 15 points off the bench on 4-for-6 shooting against Boston. And point guard Javaris Crittenton — also in his second season — had seen little playing time since he joined the Wizards on Dec. 10, but lately his minutes have increased.

Crittenton, who had five points, four assists, four rebounds and a steal in 17 minutes Friday, likely will be called upon more now that guard DeShawn Stevenson will miss roughly 2 1/2 weeks with a pinched nerve in his back.

“[Stevenson] provided a bunch of things for us,” Tapscott said. “Defense first, ball-handling, offensive continuity and of course he was going to take his shots. So Nick will get his chance to play, and Javaris Crittenton will get a chance, too, because we need ball-handling as well.

“So multiple players will be asked to fill in and try to bring the versatility DeShawn brings to this team.”

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