Wizards' Coach Looks for 'Progress'

Guard DeShawn Stevenson's effort in the preseason opener impressed Coach Eddie Jordan, who said he was pleased with the team's play.
Guard DeShawn Stevenson's effort in the preseason opener impressed Coach Eddie Jordan, who said he was pleased with the team's play. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 11, 2006

After reviewing tape of Monday's preseason opener, a 93-88 loss to the Toronto Raptors, Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said he generally was pleased with his team's performance.

Jordan likes that his starting unit dominated the first quarter, at one point establishing 14-point lead while holding the Raptors to 21.1 percent shooting. He was encouraged by the play of DeShawn Stevenson at shooting guard and thrilled to see Jarvis Hayes hit shots and play with energy after spending the summer strengthening his surgically repaired right knee.

However, Jordan wants the team to tweak a few things tonight, when the Wizards play the Bulls at United Center in Chicago.

"I wasn't happy with the second unit in the first half [Monday night], so I would like to see them come in and execute better at both ends of the floor," Jordan said. "And I want to see better overall execution in our offense. I thought we were sloppy at times, which is to be expected in the first game, but you do want to see progress."

After building a 28-14 lead in the first quarter Monday, the Wizards were outscored 35-16 in the second. The second unit primarily consisted of Hayes, Antonio Daniels, Andray Blatche, Michael Ruffin and Etan Thomas, and the group went through a cold shooting stretch while contributing to the team's nine second-quarter turnovers.

The unit was sharper in the fourth quarter and helped the Wizards cut into Toronto's eight-point lead. In the final period alone, Hayes made 5 of 10 shots and scored 12 of his 14 points while the Wizards picked up the intensity on defense.

"I thought we found a groove late in the game," said Hayes, who practiced yesterday. "It was a little rough there for a while in the first half because we have guys kind of learning to play with one another. But once we got going a little bit, you saw us make some plays and get back into the game."

Depth appears to be a strength, even with forward Darius Songaila out with a pinched nerve in his lower back. Jordan knows what he has in Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Antonio Daniels and Ruffin, but he is watching to see if either Brendan Haywood or Thomas can take hold of the starting center spot. He will use the remaining seven preseason games to slot other players into roles.

Butler, who finished with nine points and seven rebounds Monday, said the team's primary focus will continue to be defense.

"I thought that at the start of the game and in the third quarter, our defense was exceptional," Butler said. "You saw guys closing out on shooters, we were protecting the paint, guys were communicating and helping each other out when we had to rotate. Those are the kinds of things you want to see in these games. We want to establish good habits for when the regular season gets here."

Wizards Notes: The team made one roster move yesterday, cutting rookie forward Kevinn Pinkney. Pinkney did not play Monday. The team will dress 16 players tonight against the Bulls. Songaila remains out and did not make the trip. . . .

Butler revealed that the thumb injury he had late last season was worse than he or the team acknowledged. After hurting the thumb against Boston on April 5, Butler missed five games -- all losses -- but he returned to help the Wizards end the regular season on a three-game winning streak. At the time, Butler and the team called the injury a thumb "sprain." In fact, Butler said he broke a bone in the thumb, which is on his shooting hand.

"I didn't want anyone knowing how bad it was because then guys would have been hacking at it every chance they got," said Butler, who estimated that the thumb was between 60 and 70 percent strength for the playoff series against Cleveland. "It's better now, though." . . .

Add Jamison to the list of players who don't like the NBA's new synthetic basketball.

"Terrible," Jamison said. "Every time you go to make a quick move, it feels like the ball is going to slip out of your hands. I hate it."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company