The Washington Wizards limped into the 2007 NBA playoffs without injured stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, and were promptly swept in the first round. Arenas and Butler are now healthy, but three games into the 2007-08 season the Wizards have yet to win a game.
Washington shoots for its first win since last regular season Thursday night when it visits the New Jersey Nets.
It's the worst start for the Wizards (0-3) in 15 years, dating back to their days as the Washington Bullets. Coach Eddie Jordan, though, is not in panic mode yet.
"We can bounce back,'' Jordan said. "If this was three in a row in January, there wouldn't be red flags. Since it is three in a row in the beginning of the season, we aren't in a rut. We are feeling good and we will bounce back.'"
The Wizards did just that a year ago, when they recovered from a 4-9 start to have a 29-21 record at the All-Star break - third-best in the Eastern Conference.
Even with Arenas back after a torn meniscus ended his 2006-07 season, the guard's knee still isn't 100 percent. Arenas' surgically repaired knee was drained for the second time in three weeks Wednesday, forcing him to miss practice for a third consecutive day. Still, Jordan expects Arenas to play against New Jersey.
"He just has to keep getting through his therapy, his rehab, and getting some rest when he can," Jordan said.
Butler, meanwhile, has enjoyed an excellent start to the season after his 2006-07 was cut short by a broken hand. The small forward is averaging 20 points over the first three games, including a season-high 23 in Saturday's 94-82 loss to Orlando.
All three losses have come by nine points or more for the Wizards, who are being outscored by 13.6 points per game.
New Jersey (3-1) has also been outscored overall this season, but that figure is a bit misleading. The Nets have won three tight games - against the Bulls, 76ers and Hawks - but their only loss was a 106-69 blowout at home against Toronto on Friday.
They have won twice since that defeat, most recently beating Atlanta 87-82 at home on Tuesday. Richard Jefferson, who has led the Nets in scoring in each game this season, had 25 points.
The small forward - who missed 27 games last year following ankle surgery - is off to the best start of his career, averaging 25.8 points. He's shooting 52 percent from the field and has converted 34-of-35 free-throw attempts.
"He is playing at an All-Star level,'' said eight-time All-Star guard Vince Carter. "He is definitely All-Star caliber and this year is no different. He is playing some of his best basketball. We're going to keep pushing him to keep playing that style and ride it out.''
Carter, however, has been playing well below his usual level. The swingman is averaging a career-low 15.3 points while connecting on just 32.7 percent of his shots, though a sore right thumb could be having an impact on his struggles.
"Vince is not a concern," Nets coach Lawrence Frank told the team's official Web site. "Over the course of time, the cream always rises to the top so Vince is going to be fine."
New Jersey swept four games with Washington last season, with the final two wins coming after the season-ending injuries to Arenas and Butler. The Nets have won five straight overall against the Wizards.
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