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Wizards are focused on endgame

Up 3-2, Washington wants to avoid another swoon
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

By now, the Washington Wizards have probably figured out that the Chicago Bulls don't have any quit in them. Five games into this best-of-seven, first-round playoff series, the Bulls have shown that no matter how short-handed they are or how many points they are down, they keep coming and coming -- either with a barrage of silly fouls or absurd three-pointers -- until they are forced to stop.

Time was the Bulls' worst enemy at the end of Game 4, when they took advantage of a complacent, can't-wait-until-the-clock-hits-zero approach from the Wizards and chopped a 28-point second-half deficit to six with 15 seconds left.

Gilbert Arenas's buzzer-beating jumper was the Bulls' worst enemy at the end of Game 5, when they took advantage of the frazzled, can't-hit-a-free-throw-in-crunch-time act from the Wizards and came back from a 10-point deficit in the final 39 seconds to tie the game at 110.

Although they have won three games in a row, are back home in the cozy surroundings of MCI Center -- where they have won 10 consecutive games against the Bulls -- and in position to make plans for Miami with a win in Game 6, the Wizards realize that the Bulls probably won't roll over and hand them the series.

They are anticipating that the Bulls, facing elimination, will play with desperation and abandon for the full 48 minutes. "I'm expecting their best game because it's all on the line for them right now," center Brendan Haywood said. "At the same time, we don't want to go back to Chicago [for Game 7], so expect a lot out of us, too. We have a chance to close this thing out and do something special."

But can a team that has struggled to close out the past two games close out a series?

"That's the goal. That's our plan," guard Larry Hughes said. "To come in and continue to play the good basketball we've been playing the past three games. We definitely don't want to let the team off the hook. We have them down and we want to stay on top of them. Keep the streak going."

Following the Wizards' thrilling 112-110 win, Coach Eddie Jordan decided to put his team through a light workout and film session yesterday. He set his players free earlier than usual, giving them time to "recover physically and emotionally," to "be a normal guy and spend time with the kids" and "try to forget about" the last game.

Before Arenas walked out of Jordan's office yesterday, Jordan offered his all-star point guard a bit of advice for tonight's game. "Just don't shoot 5 for 14 again," Jordan said. "[Assistant coach] Mike O'Koren said, 'Five for 14 is better than 4 for 14. We needed that last shot.' "

Arenas tried to play down his 14-foot, pull-up jumper over Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich at the buzzer. When asked if it was the biggest shot of his career, Arenas shook his head. "The biggest shot of my career was against Cleveland, when I made my first layup," Arenas said, recalling his first points in the NBA as a rookie in Golden State.

Wherever the game-winner ranks for Arenas, it certainly will go down as the most important shot in recent franchise history, should Washington go on to win a playoff series for the first time since 1982. The Wizards understand what a win tonight could meet for the District.

"As long as I've been here, and even before, the team has basically been the butt of everybody's jokes and hasn't been a team that the fans have really rallied around," said Haywood, who is in his fourth season as a Wizard. "So, the fact that we've been able to turn it around is really special for us, really special for [team owner] Abe Pollin and really special for the community."

The Wizards know the task is not complete. Forward Antawn Jamison was again asked to explain what he meant when he ran down the visitor's tunnel at United Center, shouting, "It's over! It's over!"

"Excitement came over. Maybe I should've clarified myself and said, 'The game is over! The game is over.' But I was too excited," Jamison said. "In all honesty, it's too early to say the series is over. Everybody knows the toughest game to win is the game to clinch the series."

Arenas's jumper has been replayed repeatedly, but Jamison said the image that keeps running in his head is how the Wizards blew a 22-point second-half lead in Game 5, how the Big Three missed 6 of 8 free throws in the final 2 minutes 6 seconds, how they let Hinrich rebound his own miss at the free throw line and find Jannero Pargo open for 25-foot three-pointer to the tie the game with 5.2 seconds remaining.

The Wizards have been outscored in the fourth quarter of three of the five games this series, losing Game 1 after leading by five to start the final period and clinging to close victories the past two games. But the difference between the Wizards managing a game in the fourth quarter and managing this series, Jamison said, is that they aren't too comfortable with a 3-2 series lead.

"We need to get it done," Jamison said. "If they win, they get all the confidence and momentum going home. I do feel like we're facing elimination a little bit. If we don't get this win tomorrow, it's going to be tough -- a Game 7 at Chicago? We don't want to go back and, it's pretty much up to us. We respect these guys. We're at home. If we win, it's over with. This is a game we must win. You have to close it out when they're on the brink of elimination."