Problem-plagued Wizards hoping for second-half turnaround

By Steve Ginsburg

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Faced with a gun-related suspension of his best player, the death of the team's owner, and a 14-27 record, Washington Wizards coach Flip Saunders is trying to forget the first half of the season.

"You can't worry about the past," the forlorn first-year coach told reporters on Friday. "You just have to live in the present.

"What we need is to limit the outside distractions, although I'm not sure that will happen around here anytime soon."

The Wizards were hoping to make a post-season run with the return of guard Gilbert Arenas, who missed nearly all of last season's woeful 19-63 campaign with a knee injury.

But the NBA's suspension of the three-time All-Star last month for bringing several guns into the Verizon Center locker room has left the team scrambling for wins again.

The Wizards are 3-6 since NBA Commissioner David Stern banned Arenas, who pleaded guilty on January 15 to carrying a pistol without a license in the District of Columbia.

"We're trying not to let the distractions affect the way the way we play on the basketball court," said forward Antawn Jamison, a double All-Star and the team's leading scorer.

"And the best way to get rid of the distractions is to start winning."

JAMISON OPTIMISTIC

The 28-year-old Arenas opened the season trying to shake off the rust after having played in only 15 games over the last two seasons due to injuries.

Although the club was stumbling with Arenas in the lineup, the guard's 22.6 scoring average energized a fan base growing desperate for the once-proud franchise to start winning.

Jamison is hopeful the team can recover from the loss of Arenas and the November death of 85-year-old Abe Pollin, the civic-minded face of the franchise who owned the club for 46 years.

"It's vital for us to do the opposite of what we did in the first 41 games," Jamison said before practice. "We need to get a couple of winning streaks going.

"We've been in some tight games. We're now understanding what it takes to win them."

Saunders believes the future can still be bright without Arenas, who will be sentenced in March and will probably never wear a Wizards uniform again.

"There's no question the team misses Gilbert not being around," he said. "We could really use him, especially in late-game situations.

"But the team has responded in a positive way knowing he's not here. They're saying, 'We've got to move on and see what develops down the road.'"

(Editing by Ken Ferris)