By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 16, 2007
After losing five straight games to open the season, wins over the Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers have lightened the mood among the Washington Wizards. Coach Eddie Jordan is almost as pleased by the way his team has played as with the wins themselves.
The Wizards have won back-to-back games for the first time since last March and looked sharp doing it.
"We played disciplined and we made the right plays when we needed to make them, especially down the stretch when they made a little run at us," Jordan said. "We stayed organized. We didn't come down and get bad spacing or take selfish sort of attempts. We have veterans who understand and are learning that we just can't jack up a tough shot. We executed and that's what you want to see."
The Wizards (2-5) will try to keep that momentum going into a weekend that includes a game at Minnesota tonight followed by a game against Portland at Verizon Center on Saturday night.
Wednesday's game against Indiana, which has lost five straight, kicked off a portion of the schedule that should allow the Wizards to recover from their rough start.
The Timberwolves, who traded cornerstone Kevin Garnett to Boston over the summer, finally earned their first win Wednesday night, while the Trail Blazers (4-4) are in the midst of a four-game road trip. Of Washington's next six opponents, none has a winning record.
"This is our time to make a statement," said guard Gilbert Arenas, who finished with 30 points and a season-high 11 assists in the win over Indiana. "We have to keep playing the way we did [Wednesday] night."
One strategic wrinkle that worked in the wins over Atlanta and Indiana was Jordan's use of a larger lineup when he substituted.
Jordan experimented by playing either the 6-foot-11 Andray Blatche or the 6-9 Darius Songaila in a lineup that also included Caron Butler at shooting guard, Antawn Jamison at small forward and Brendan Haywood at his customary center position with Arenas or Antonio Daniels at point guard.
The bigger look allows Jordan to create matchup problems for opponents offensively while also giving the Wizards a much larger, more physical defensive presence, one the team has often lacked without center Etan Thomas, who is out indefinitely after undergoing open-heart surgery on Oct. 11.
Rookie 7-footer Oleksiy Pecherov also remains out with a right ankle injury.
"You're missing Etan, you're missing Pecherov, so that's a 7-footer and a physical force down there," Jordan said. "And when you look at the league, there are some large shooting guards and large small forwards, and those first few games it felt like we were dwarfed out there at times. [The bigger lineup] allows us to protect the rim, protect the paint, but we can still have skill guys out there at the three, four and five spots with Antawn, Darius and Andray."
Butler, who has been the team's most consistent player so far, could be a key to the upcoming stretch of games. He came out with energy and hustle while scoring 14 of his season-high 25 points in the first quarter Wednesday night and plans to take the same approach tonight against the Timberwolves.
"I have to go out there and make it my business to set the tone," Butler said.
Wizards Notes: The team hasn't forgotten last season's trip to face the Timberwolves. Following a 15-point loss in Chicago on Feb. 23, the team's flight to Minneapolis was delayed for several hours and finally diverted to Duluth, Minn., because of a blizzard.
The team then embarked on a 3 1/2 -hour bus ride to get to their hotel, eventually losing the game, 98-94.
"That was the worst trip ever," said Butler, who was forced to miss the game because his back stiffened up during the long bus ride. "It couldn't have been worse."