Slow start this year is familiar for Wizards' Okafor

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Sports,NBA,Wizards,Craig Stouffer

Seasons with Bobcats began much same way

The Wizards are 0-5 for the second year in a row and the third time in five seasons.

It's an achingly familiar slow start for Emeka Okafor, who began his career as the face of the Charlotte Bobcats franchise in their first year as an expansion franchise in the NBA. The Bobcats began that first season with losses in eight of their first nine games en route to an 18-64 record.

It's an experience that taught Okafor patience and perseverance. But the outlook for the Bobcats in the fall of 2004 and the Wizards this season are different, and that gives Okafor one of many reasons to stay positive despite Washington's dismal early results.

Up next
Wizards at Bobcats
When » Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where » Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, N.C.
TV » CSN

"It was completely different as far as it was a fledgling organization," Okafor said. "Everybody was brand new. It was an expansion draft, so essentially a team full of people that nobody else wanted, and then trying to break into a new marketplace. The whole dynamic was just different. We came in, and the system is set up for you to lose."

Okafor, 30, doesn't feel the same way about the Wizards, whose five losses have come by an average of 6.6 points. The ninth-year center had his best game of the year in Saturday's 89-85 loss at Indiana, finishing with 17 points and eight rebounds.

"He's been really good these last two games. Been solid," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "Anchor to our defense. That's the best we've had somebody guard [Pacers center Roy] Hibbert since I've been here, and this is the start of my fourth year."

It was the second straight game in which at least four starters scored in double figures. A.J. Price racked up a career-high 14 assists, and rookie Bradley Beal had 17 points. Beal, the third pick in June's draft, will face off with No. 2 pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist when the Wizards visit the Bobcats (2-3) on Tuesday.

But the Wizards also start the week with a bench that is struggling after carrying the load in the first three games. After a combined 35 points and 16 rebounds in his first two contests, Kevin Seraphin has just six points and four boards as teams have clamped down on him in the last two.

Wittman said he's considered pairing his two centers together but for the time being has been pleased with Chris Singleton off the bench at power forward.

As a whole, the Wizards also have some daunting numbers that work against them in crunch time, including being last in the NBA in free throw attempts per game (14.6). Compared to what Washington has faced in recent seasons, incremental improvements aren't a lot to ask.

"It's tough, but I'd much rather lose by three than 30," Okafor said. "When you can leave and know that you're one or two or three plays away from a win, in your mind it's not as big of an adjustment to going in and getting blown out every night. It's just 'OK, something is off.' You just have to tweak the right things versus a complete overhaul."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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