Thursday, November 24, 2005

ORLANDO, Fla. — The look on the faces of the Washington Wizards as they go back and forth to the bench these days is one of confusion and bewilderment, as if they are failing to grasp what is going on.

That look was on each of their faces last night at the TD Waterhouse Centre as the Orlando Magic ended their two-game losing streak by extending the Wizards’ slide to a season-high five games with a 91-83 victory.

Along with those looks, the other on-court ugliness that defined their recent play was readily apparent.

“We’re trying different schemes and different combinations, and it just hasn’t come together for us right now,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “It just hasn’t come together for us in this stretch right now. But the season is still young. We’ve seen a lot of things happen in the NBA over the course of time.

“Teams that start off poorly can end up in the playoffs, and teams that think they are in in March don’t make it. As long as we continue to work, we’ve got good character in that locker room and will get out of it.”

Jordan could be right. After all, this team began the season 5-1. However, if they had trouble against a short-handed Orlando team — neither Grant Hill nor Steve Francis played because of injuries — don’t expect them to get well when they play at Detroit on Friday. The Pistons own a 12-game winning streak over the Wizards dating to Dec. 4, 2002.

Meanwhile, the long faces and other on-court ugliness that have defined Washington’s recent struggles were on display last night.

Led by Antawn Jamison’s impressive 25 points and 16 rebounds, the Wizards (5-6) struggled offensively, shooting just 39.2 percent (31-for-79) from the field and 5-for-20 from 3-point range.

Meanwhile, the depleted Magic placed five players in double figures in scoring, led by Hedo Turkoglu’s season-high 23 points. Jameer Nelson (15) and Tony Battie (12) also had season-highs.

Gilbert Arenas, who has struggled mightily since being named Eastern Conference player of the week, had another bad shooting night. Going into last night’s game, Arenas had made just 30 of his last 79 shots from the floor (37.9 percent). And last night he struggled again, finishing with 19 points but making just six of 19 shots from the field.

Challenged in recent days to be more of a defensive player, Arenas was beaten off the dribble by backup point guard Nelson for a layup that put Orlando ahead 89-83. Seconds later, Turkoglu salted the game away with a pair of free throws.

The road hasn’t been kind to the Wizards of late. And they returned home after dropping three straight at Cleveland, Minnesota and New Jersey — only to have Denver’s Marcus Camby block Gilbert Arenas’ last-second 3-pointer.

That Denver loss kicked off a stretch of four games in five nights for the Wizards, who traveled to Detroit following last night’s game. Washington has lost 12 consecutive games to the Pistons, and they haven’t won in Detroit since Dec. 4, 2002.

“I’d rather have it now,” Arenas said of the losing streak. “If we have a five-game losing streak in April, that means we’re not getting better as a team. Right now we’re trying to adjust lineups, see who plays well with each other. Right now were just not getting it done as a team. We’re not panicking — it’s something every team goes through. We just have to bounce back, and once we bounce back out of it it will be smooth sailing — hopefully.”

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