- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 23, 2010

When Washington cleaned house just before the trade deadline, sending Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood to the Dallas Mavericks and team captain Antawn Jamison to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the assumption was the Wizards would flatline the rest of the season.

On local airwaves, people started talking about winning the lottery instead of winning games, and daydreaming about Washingtons chances of landing the No. 1 pick.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the wake.

The corpse, it seems, is still alive. And playing good ball.

The Zombie Wizards are 3-1 since the trades, and playing better than they have all season.

Last night, led by the suddenly relevant Andray Blatche, the Wizards topped the playoff-caliber Chicago Bulls 101-95. That win comes three days after the Wizards beat the Western Conferences current No. 2 seed, the Denver Nuggets.

In fact, if not for a late fourth-quarter defensive lapse on Sunday in Toronto, this hungry, ball-hawking bunch of no-name Wizards could easily be 4-0 since trading away two of the Big Three the all-star trio of Butler, Jamison and the suspended gunslinger, Gilbert Arenas.

The 23-year-old Blatche, who had averaged 7.3 points a game in what had been a completely unremarkable four-year NBA career, is now on a tear, averaging 25 points on 60 percent shooting as well as scooping up rebounds and steals.

Blatche had strong support from front-court mate Josh Howard, the former all-star who came over in the Mavericks trade, but Howard went down last night with a torn ACL. Out for the season.

Howard, who seemed to have rekindled his interest in basketball since joining the Wizards, was expected to step in and fill in for the Wizards departing stars.

Without Howard, though, the Wizards put a pretty anonymous team on the floor by most NBA franchise standards: Nick Young? Javaris Crittendon? Randy Foye? Al Thornton? Who?

Most of those less-than-household name players are fighting for contracts next season, though, and their hunger is clearly evident on the court.

For Coach Flip Saunders, mired in one of the most miserable years of his career, the turnabout couldnt have come at a better time.

Weve played our best four games the last four games, a relieved Saunders said, sounding more alive than he has practically all season.

Saunders isnt the only one feeling a little optimistic about the emergence of Blatche and Co., despite the bad news today about Howards knee: The airwaves today were full of talk about the possibility that the Wizards could sneak into the playoff picture.

Yes, thats right, the playoff picture. Dont laugh the 20-34 Wizards right now are only 6.5 games behind Milwaukee, a team they will play twice in the next two weeks.

In those two weeks, the Wizards face the Grizzlies, Knicks, Nets and Bucks (twice) all winnable games.

Tomorrow night, the Not-Dead-Yet Wizards host the 28-27 Grizzlies at Verizon Center.

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