Wizards hope home is where the wins are

Down 2-0, Washington wants MCI Center crowd to provide spark vs. Bulls

Pro Basketball

April 30, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - They are looking at an 0-2 deficit in a best-of-seven opening-round NBA playoff series. They are looking at why the Chicago Bulls have scored 108 points a game - nearly 14 points more than their season's average. The Washington Wizards are also looking at something else going into Game 3 today at 3 p.m.

Coming home to MCI Center.

The defensively challenged Wizards can't wait to get the Bulls in front of a hostile crowd for what is nearly a must-win situation for Washington. Put it this way: If Wizards fans are as vocal in their dislike for Chicago as they've been lately in their disapproval of Kwame Brown, Washington could really have a home-court advantage.

"We're just anxious to hold the fort down," forward Antawn Jamison said after practice yesterday. "It's up to us to fulfill our job to win two games here, and the most important thing is to get the first game. We've got to use the crowd to our advantage, but the most important thing is defensively, coming out with the effort for 48 minutes."

The Wizards are still looking for their first playoff win since 1988, but the odds are in their favor given a 29-12 home record during the regular season and that they've beaten the Bulls at home eight straight times. Their last meeting here 17 days ago produced a win that gave Washington its first playoff berth in eight years.

While Wizards coach Eddie Jordan has been pleased with his team's effort, defensive lapses and questionable shot selection have enabled the Bulls to dominate when it counted - in the closing minutes of Game 1 and in the second quarter of Game 2, as the Wizards quickly threw away what had been an early 13-point lead.

"It's just been a game of runs - the Bulls went on a huge run obviously when they came into the second quarter," Jordan said. "I think we're really prepared for them to be an explosive team, probably a little bit more explosive than we thought at first, coming off the bench."

Aside from the most glaring deficiency - making defensive stops - the biggest problem for the Wizards is something else that has hampered them at times throughout the regular season. Though they are getting production from guards Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes, as well as Jamison, the Wizards are getting little from anyone else.

"When you have a good defense like Chicago, they take away the paint," Jordan said. "If you don't make shots, they're going to keep it packed inside and if they keep it packed inside, the bigs are not going to get their opportunity. I say we're shooting too much [from the outside] and we're not getting enough inside."

Said Arenas, who finished with 39 points in Game 2 after scoring only nine in Game 1: "We're passing the ball, they just have to convert, just as we have to convert our stuff. If they make the shots, we're going to give them the ball. This is a guard-oriented offense. If they go down and miss two wide-open layups, we're [thinking we're] going to have to do it ourselves."

If Arenas, Hughes and Jamison are the "Big Three," producing nearly two-thirds of their team's playoff points, then forward Jared Jeffries and center Brendan Haywood have been the "Little Two."

Jeffries has scored eight points and pulled down three rebounds in 45 minutes, while Haywood has had 14 rebounds, but only 12 points and three blocks in 47 minutes. Brown had 13 points and nine rebounds off the bench in Game 1, but only two points and four rebounds in Game 2.

"When you get to this stage of the season, the playoffs, your big guys have to set a tone," said Jamison, who is averaging 16 points and 7.5 rebounds in the first two games. "You want your big guys to be aggressive. We shouldn't let any frontline out-rebound us. We shouldn't let any frontline be more physical than us."

Jordan believes that the fact that Chicago has often used a three-guard set that features Ben Gordon (30 points in Game 1), Kirk Hinrich (34 points in 24 minutes in Game 2) and rookie Chris Duhon has forced him to play a smaller lineup, with Hughes playing small forward along with Arenas and Juan Dixon.

But Jordan understands that changing his team's style of going outside first before looking inside might be difficult at this stage.

"You live by the sword, you die by the sword," Jordan said of his team's preponderance of outside shots. "We won 45 games playing the way we've been playing now, I know it's the playoffs, it's a different animal. We are who we are and we hope that we can play at the highest level we can tomorrow and Monday."

NOTE: As of yesterday afternoon, there were a limited number of tickets available for today's game.

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