Wizards Showing Defensive Growth

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 30, 2008

RICHMOND, Sept. 29 -- When the Washington Wizards got off to a slow start last season, dropping their first five games while struggling offensively, Coach Eddie Jordan theorized that the overwhelming emphasis he and his staff placed on defense during the preseason was a factor.

This week, as the Wizards lay a foundation for the upcoming season, Jordan is striking more of a balance between offense and defense.

"We're into the offense," Jordan said Monday after his team completed its third practice of camp. "It's not like we've had two or three practices and it's been 80 percent defense and 20 percent offense. It's been about 60/40 because the system is in defensively for the second year. As long as they give effort and they remember our scheme, then we're ahead of last year."

Last season, Washington opponents averaged 99.2 points on 46.1 percent shooting. That was a drastic change from 2006-07 when opponents connected on 47.3 percent of their shots while averaging 104.9 points per game.

Some of that improvement is explainable by the fact that the Wizards played at a slower pace last season when three-time all-star Gilbert Arenas was limited to 13 games.

With Antonio Daniels running the offense in place of Arenas, the Wizards did not push the ball as much in transition and they took fewer shots early in the shot clock.

As a result of that slower pace and the absence of the high-scoring Arenas, their own average dropped to 98.8 points per game, down from the 104.3 they put up in 2006-07.

However, there is no question that the Wizards were an improved defensive team in several areas.

They did a better job of helping one another when an opponent beat his man off the dribble, their rotations were faster, and in several close wins (the Wizards were 10-8 in games decided by three points or less) Jordan's team did a better job of putting the clamps on when it really counted.

This season, Jordan is again going with the defensive schemes assistant coach Randy Ayers helped implement and teach last fall, and that familiarity should give the Wizards a chance to improve even more, according to several players.

"You can say that's the case with everything, that guys are more comfortable given the foundation coach Ayers laid last year," Daniels said. "You can see it in drills and principles. Guys know what to do now and what not to do. You still have to pick your spots and use your instincts in certain situations but guys know where to be on the floor, what's asked of you and what's expected of you."

In drills and in scrimmages this week, Jordan and his staff have been emphasizing closing out on shooters more effectively while also staying in front of their own man.

"We are really trying to get better at individually containing our own man," Jordan said. "And I think Randy Ayers mentioned this, that we've been talking so much about help that maybe that's in a defender's mind. That our help defense is there. What we talked about in our morning meeting is that when you are closing out on your man, when you are playing one-on-one, you've got to get your job done, not to just rely on the help to be there."

Players are buying into that approach.

"It's an area where we can all improve," said forward Antawn Jamison, who participated Monday evening after missing 2 1/2 practices with a right hip flexor strain. "It's a matter of doing your best to keep your man in front of you so he doesn't break the defense down and create driving lanes and wide-open shots elsewhere once that help comes over. If we can do a better job of that, then we'll play better defense as a unit throughout every possession."

Wizards Notes: Forward Dominic McGuire was held out of both workouts with a strained groin, as was rookie Taj McCullough, who has a sprained right ankle. . . .

Jordan said he likes what he's seeing from second-year shooting guard Nick Young.

"He looks more comfortable on the floor," Jordan said. "A lot more comfortable on the floor. He knows what the offense will give him and what he can do in the open floor. He's not thinking so much. So, he's showing me a lot of comfort level while still being aggressive." . . .

Single-game tickets for all 41 home games will be available Wednesday at 10 a.m. by calling (202) 397-SEAT, or on the Wizards' official Web site.

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