Jordan Stresses Focus as Wizards Near Season

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 25, 2007

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. Oct. 24 -- The preseason is nearly over for the Washington Wizards and every veteran is looking forward to games that count, but Coach Eddie Jordan doesn't want his team looking too far ahead just yet.

"It's important that we don't take a step backwards," Jordan said before Wednesday night's 104-85 loss to the Detroit Pistons. "We want to still improve on how we're playing, and at the same time, we're still looking at the young guys playing at the end of games."

The Wizards conclude the preseason on Friday night at Toronto and open the regular season next Wednesday at Indiana.

The Pistons seized control of Wednesday's game with a 34-point second quarter that was fueled in part by former Wizard Jarvis Hayes, who signed with Detroit over the summer after the Wizards declined to extend him a qualifying offer.

Hayes led the Pistons with 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Defense has been a point of emphasis for Jordan and his staff since training camp opened, but Detroit shot 50.8 percent and made 9 of 13 three-point attempts while building an 83-61 lead through three quarters.

Antawn Jamison led the Wizards with 14 points and seven rebounds while Caron Butler added 12 points and Gilbert Arenas finished with 11. Washington shot 39.8 percent and committed 13 turnovers.

The Wizards also made a roster move, releasing second-year forward Mike Hall. The move leaves the Wizards with 13 players, including veteran center Etan Thomas, who is out indefinitely following open-heart surgery on Oct. 11.

The decision to release Hall, who played at George Washington, was based on financial as well as basketball reasons: Keeping him would have put them over the luxury tax threshold ($67.8 million). Teams over the threshold must pay dollar-for-dollar tax and following the season, that money is redistributed among teams that stay under.

Before Wednesday's game, Jordan said his plan for the final two preseason contests was to play his starters extended minutes and then blend in the reserves he plans on using when the regular season starts.

So far, the top reserves have been Antonio Daniels, Darius Songaila and Andray Blatche, but Jordan took an early look at rookie Nick Young, a first-round pick, on Wednesday night.

Young checked in near the end of the first quarter and connected on three of his first four shots, including a spectacular reverse layup he made while drawing a foul on Rodney Stuckey, who was taken by the Pistons with the 15th pick in the draft, one slot ahead of Young. Stuckey broke a bone in his left hand in the second half. It is not known how long he will be out.

The development of Blatche, Young and rookies Dominic McGuire and Oleksiy Pecherov has been a preseason priority for the Wizards and that process will likely continue into the regular season as Jordan determines their roles.

Blatche has mostly played as a backup center to Brendan Haywood, McGuire is Caron Butler's backup at small forward and Young could be the kind of off-the-bench scorer the Wizards have lacked.

Still, Arenas said the real indicator of how the team is jelling will come in the early weeks of the regular season.

"It's preseason," Arenas said. "You can't judge a team and you can't judge players. If you look at the top scorers in the league during preseason, they are not going to see them as the top scorers in the regular season. In the preseason, you will see flashes of players' growth, especially the young players, but once the regular season starts, the veterans take over."

Wizards Notes: McGuire said his mother, who had to be evacuated from her home in San Diego because of the fires that are ravaging Southern California, is doing fine and should be cleared to return home soon. McGuire said it has been difficult watching what is happening in and around his home town.

"Fires are something you always know can happen at anytime out there but I know they're doing everything they can to help people and hopefully everything will be fine," McGuire said. "I'm just happy that my family is safe. My mom said she's fine and just told me to concentrate on basketball."

Pecherov (right quadriceps contusion) missed his second straight game.

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