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Okafor, Ariza struggling to fit in


Okafor, Ariza struggling to fit in

When the Wizards traded Rashard Lewis and a second-round pick to the New Orleans Hornets for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, it wasn’t jut to rid themselves of Lewis’ $22 million salary.

After all, Okafor and Ariza are scheduled to make a combined $43 million through next season.

At the time of that June 20 trade, Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld said Okafor and Ariza filled two of his team’s needs: a solid rebounder, and an athletic forward who could run the floor.

“These players fit in well with what we’re trying to do,” Grunfeld said at the time. “I think we’re going to be a better team with the addition of these players and the players we’ll add in the draft. But where we’ll be in the Eastern Conference, only time will tell.”

Time has not exactly been a friend to the Wizards, who are off to the worst start in franchise history at 0-9. The uneven play of Okafor and Ariza is at least part of the reason.

Okafor arrived in Washington with career averages of 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds. Through nine games, all of which he started, the 30-year-old center is averaging 7.6 points and 6.3 rebounds.

Ariza, 27, entered this season averaging 9.0 points and 4.4 rebounds. He’s also started all nine games for the Wizards and is averaging 8.3 points and 4.8 rebounds.

Neither played in the fourth quarter of the Wizards’ 96-89 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Monday night.

“I don’t want to say those guys aren’t doing it on the floor,” said Wizards point guard A.J. Price, who also sat out that fourth quarter while Wizards coach Randy Wittman went with Shaun Livingston, Bradley Beal, Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker and Chris Singleton.

“Their job has been tough. They came in with a lot of expectations on their shoulders and that’s tough when you’re on a team that’s growing and trying to get better. Those guys come in and work hard every single day, so my hat’s off to them for that. And at some point they’ll turn it around and it will come collectively when we as a team turn it around.”

Ariza’s game-to-game performance this season has been erratic. He followed a 15-point night against Milwaukee with a four-point game against the Pacers; followed a 19-point effort against Charlotte with a four-point night in Dallas; then followed a 16-point game against the Jazz with a six-point night against Indiana.

Okafor has seen his production dip in recent weeks. After netting a season-high 17 point son Nov. 10, he managed three straight games with eight points and finished Monday night’s game with a season-low one point with one rebound in just 9:06 of action.

“I don’t know what to say anymore, to be honest,” Okafor said. “It’s frustrating. Being 0-9 is a frustrating position. I don’t know how to put it in words. We’re trying.”

Okafor refused to place blame on Wittman for sitting him on the bench and trying new combinations against the Pacers.  

“He’s trying,” Okafor said. “He has a tough job. He’s doing what he can. He’s trying to find a way to find wins. He’s doing what he can, like we all are. It’s difficult all the way around. When you’re 0-9 you’re trying to find a way.”

The Wizards will try to avoid their 10th straight defeat when the visit the 5-4 Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night. The Wizards may learn on Tuesday if they will be without Trevor Booker, who appeared to injure his knee in the final minute of Monday night’s loss.

“We’re all a very upbeat group and we’re not going to let things get us down,” Okafor said. “We understand it’s a long season and it’s never over. That’s why I credit this group and this coaching staff. Everybody is very upbeat and still staying positive.”

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Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

Washington Wizards

Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

This weekend was already going to be special for Washington Wizards fans. Now they will get souvenirs to remember it.

As part of their celebration of Phil Chenier's legendary career and the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship, the Wizards are handing out emoji signs on Friday night and commemorative t-shirts on Sunday. All fans in attendance will receive a giveaway.


The emoji sign has Chenier's face on it and will be handed out for the March 23 game against the Nuggets. Chenier will have his jersey retired at halftime during the game. 

The emoji sign is presented by NBC Sports Washington. You're welcome, Authentic Fans.


The shirts will be given out on Sunday when the Wizards host the New York Knicks. 

Here's the front...

And the back...

Let's take a closer look at that back...

As a reporter who has received many giveaways over the years at pro sports stadiums, these are uniquely awesome. Should be a great weekend for Wizards fans. See you at the arena.


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Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

As if they needed a reminder, the Wizards saw firsthand on Wednesday night just how much can change in a short period of time in the Eastern Conference playoff race where just two games separate the No. 3 and No. 6 teams.

That No. 6 team is now your Washington Wizards, who began the day in fourth place but lost their first game in four days on the same night both the Cavs and Sixers won theirs. 

The Wizards lost to the Spurs on Wednesday and managed only 90 points, their fewest since Jan. 22. It was a lackluster performance in a game the Wizards needed to treat with urgency. 


The Spurs sure did.

"We've gotta have a better mentality coming into games," guard Bradley Beal said. "The Spurs were fighting for playoff seeding just like we were."

The Wizards have now lost six of their last 10, yet all those games have come against teams currently holding playoff spots. Considering John Wall reamins out with a left knee injury, it's hard to fault them too much when they are staying afloat just fine in the big picture.

The problem is that the closer they get to the end of the season, the more these losses are magnified. They amount to missed opportunities, some bigger than others.

That was not lost on Beal, who considered the alternative. If the Wizards had beaten the Spurs, they would be sitting in fourth, two spots higher, and just a game-and-a-half out of third.

"Every time we have a chance to move up, we take two steps back," Beal lamented.


The Wizards are in a high stakes part of the standings where plenty is in the balance. They are fighting for home court advantage, something they would get in the third or fourth spots. And who they match up with will be paramount.

By falling to sixth, the Wizards are currently in line to play the Cleveland Cavaliers. Though the Pacers and Sixers are also good teams, they don't have LeBron James. Avoiding him and the Cavs would be ideal for the Wizards.

Beal has even bigger worries than that. He noted after the loss in San Antonio that they could fall even further if they aren't careful. They are now just a game-and-a-half up on the seventh-place Heat. 

"We've gotta realize what's at stake, man. The way we're going, we could keep dropping and mess around and be eighth. We've gotta do whatever it takes to win," he said.

The Wizards should be fine, if the previous two months are any indication. But Wednesday night was another example of how precarious things are for them this season in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference.


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