Focused Wizards Go Back to Chicago

The Wizards' Antawn Jamison heads to the locker room after Game 4.
The Wizards' Antawn Jamison heads to the locker room after Game 4. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 4, 2005

After the Washington Wizards spent the first two games in Chicago treating defense as an option or a necessary evil to get the ball back to shoot, Coach Eddie Jordan didn't defend his team. Jordan responded to criticism of his players' inability to play defense by saying, "You can't turn a duck into a swan."

That was before the Wizards bullied the Chicago Bulls for two games at MCI Center, holding them to 36.4 percent shooting, forcing an average of 17 turnovers and building leads of 20 or more in both games.

"Better late than never," Jordan said with a laugh, when asked about his team's newly discovered commitment to defense.

With the best-of-seven series tied at 2, following a 106-99 win on Monday night, has the duck become a swan?

"I think we're a swan when we can get out of the first round," Jordan said as his team prepared for a critical Game 5 at 7 p.m. tonight at United Center.

The Wizards played inspired basketball at MCI Center, getting surprising production from the likes of reserve forward Etan Thomas, who broke out with 20 points and nine rebounds in Game 3, and reserve guard Juan Dixon, the former Maryland star who scored a career-high 35 points in Game 4. Jordan said he noticed a difference in his team after the two games at home.

"Yeah, [Juan Dixon's] cell phone rang a lot more" in the film session on Tuesday, Jordan said with a laugh. "He got fined for that."

But for the Wizards to become a "swan," win a playoff series for the first time since 1982 and earn a second-round matchup against the Miami Heat, they will have to win at least one game in Chicago.

The Bulls hope that home-court advantage will have the effect it has had on every game this series, but they realize the venue can impact the game only so much.

"The fans aren't going to go out and win the game for us. We're going to have to execute and play hard and win the game. Just because we are at home, it does not mean that it will be given to us," Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich said yesterday after practice in Deerfield, Ill. "If we don't defend and rebound, we don't have a chance to win the series. It is going to come down to that."

The Wizards were able to defend and rebound at home, and they hope to heed the advice of Jordan and "ride the wave" of momentum into Chicago.

"The team that's able to steal a game on the other team's floor is the team that has the best opportunity to win," Wizards forward Antawn Jamison said. "I think the first couple of games, we thought we could rely on our offense a lot and defensively just go with the flow. We finally realized that this is playoff time and defense is going to put us in position to win series and games."

The Wizards left home without forward-center Kwame Brown, who was suspended for the remainder of the postseason yesterday after meeting with Jordan and President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld. Jordan asked Brown to stay home and Brown elected not to join the team in Chicago. After playing a season-low four minutes in Game 3, Brown, the No. 1 pick of the 2001 draft, informed the team that he had a stomach virus on Sunday. He also failed to join the team for the morning shoot-around or Game 4 on Monday.

When asked about playing without Brown, Jordan said: "It's not a distraction at all. We're a close-knit team. We're moving forward and we're committed to winning. I'm not talking about Kwame Brown right now."

In the regular season, the Wizards went 23-17 without Brown, who was limited to 42 games because of a right foot injury.

"We have a job to do in Chicago. We've got to get a win there and [Wednesday] is the best chance for us," said Jordan, who noticed a difference in his team the past two games. "We've got to go in with an assassin's attitude."

Special correspondent Daniel I. Dorfman contributed to this report from Illinois.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company