WASHINGTON (AP) -Forget for a moment all the points, rebounds, steals and assists that Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler would provide if they were on the floor. The Washington Wizards also need their fire.
Those who are healthy enough to play had the audacity to think they could just show up and beat another struggling team, the New York Knicks, in the first game after the All-Star break. The result was a lifeless overtime loss Tuesday night, Washington's ninth defeat in 10 games and the kind of performance that could knock the team right out of the playoff race.
``I think we have to understand the situation we're in,'' All-Star forward Antawn Jamison said.
kind of disappointing.''
As one of the team captains, Jamison took responsibility for Tuesday's halfhearted effort, but Jamison has always been a softer-spoken, follow-my-example leader. Coach Eddie Jordan can be stern, but he's also not a yeller or screamer. The team's heart-on-the-sleeve veterans - the ones most likely to yell in a huddle or rev up teammates on the court - are Arenas, Butler and Etan Thomas, all of whom are injured.
``I'm trying to stay in everybody's ear as much as possible, but it's still a little different coming from the sideline,'' said Butler, who has missed six straight games and nine of 11 with a strained left hip flexor. ``That's why the coaches always emphasized the point that they need a voice on the court. And, right now, I'm crippled of that voice. I can't do it.''
Jordan called his team's effort against the Knicks ``unacceptable.'' The Wizards already are going to struggle to beat good teams because of their injuries, so a home loss to a bad team really hurt.
``We should have played harder,'' Jordan said. ``But that's a sign of where we are with our health and with our youth.''
Thomas, Antonio Daniels and DeShawn Stevenson.
``We're doing the best we can,'' said Jordan, who had eight healthy players for the workout. ``Some guys can't practice. It's pretty difficult, but we're trying to find ways to get some reps in for our younger guys. We walked through a lot of defensive situations at the end of practice, so we got something accomplished. It's just tough to do any scrimmaging.''
Arenas, who has missed most of the season because of a knee injury, hopes to return sometime next month. All-Star forward Butler had hoped to play Tuesday before his hip stiffened during the morning shootaround - the Wizards are 2-8 this season when he doesn't play - and his status is uncertain for Friday's game at Cleveland.
``I'm trying to remain optimistic about getting out there, but at the same time I've got to see how I feel,'' Butler said. ``I need to feel good in practice. Pain free.''
Thomas' return from open heart surgery is a long-term process because his sternum, which had to be broken during the operation, has been slow to heal. Daniels is gimpy with a bad ankle that will bother him the rest of the season. Stevenson has a sore right knee and didn't practice Wednesday.
Help from outside probably isn't on the way. The Wizards, just under the NBA's luxury tax threshold, aren't expected to make any significant moves before Thursday's trade deadline.
Two weeks ago, the Wizards were poised to challenge Orlando for the Southeast Division lead. Now Washington has fallen to sixth place overall in the Eastern Conference, in need of its emotional leaders in order to make the playoffs for a fourth straight year.
``This game's about men fighting and competing,'' Jordan said. ``And we just didn't have enough, in a sense, men - proven veterans who understand that. We're playing with a lot of young guys. We're playing with a lot of hurt guys. That's no excuse; it's just reality. ... You've got to have those personalities to be out there to do it.''
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