Berlin Crowd Witnesses a Wizards Whiff

Hornets guard Chris Paul, right, slips a pass by Andray Blatche in an 11-assist 24-minute effort. Paul
Hornets guard Chris Paul, right, slips a pass by Andray Blatche in an 11-assist 24-minute effort. Paul "gave them a show," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. (By Michael Sohn -- Associated Press)
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By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 15, 2008

BERLIN, Oct. 14 -- Right before his team took the floor for Tuesday night's preseason game against the New Orleans Hornets at O2World Arena, Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan drew up his team's first play and handed the sheet of paper to a young German fan sitting behind the Washington bench.

Trouble was, the play didn't work and neither did many others on a night when the short-handed Wizards started cold and pretty much stayed that way en route to a 96-80 loss in front of an enthusiastic sellout crowd of 14,031.

With Antawn Jamison (right knee) and Antonio Daniels (night off) watching from the bench in suits, a starting lineup of Dee Brown, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Darius Songaila and Etan Thomas missed its first nine shots and quickly fell behind 18-0 while being treated like pylons by Hornets star Chris Paul, who controlled the game's tempo while piling up 11 assists in 24 minutes.

After trailing 61-24 at halftime, the Wizards at least made things respectable with improved play at both ends in the second half, but it wasn't enough.

"We just didn't play well at all to start the game," said Brown, who finished with six points and six assists in just under 31 minutes. "We were a little flat, a little out of it and they jumped on us. We did a better job in the second half, so that's something we have to try and carry over to these last few games."

The loss capped the team's three-day visit to the German capital and dropped the Wizards to 1-3 in the preseason. Both teams flew after the game to Barcelona, where they will play again on Friday night as they complete their portion of the NBA's Europe Live tour.

The good news for the Wizards is that help could soon be on the way. The team is already without three-time all-star Gilbert Arenas and center Brendan Haywood but also made the trip without second-year shooting guard Nick Young, who has been bothered by a sore right knee and has missed all four preseason games. Also, veteran guard Juan Dixon has yet to suit up because of a sore calf.

Jamison, Dixon and Daniels may be back Friday night. That could be key because the Oct. 29 regular season opener is fast approaching and Jordan only has three more preseason games to set a rotation and establish roles.

"That's why I wanted to get out there and play," said Dixon, who plans to play Friday night. "I know how important it is to get some games under my belt and we need that as a team as well. It's important to catch a rhythm early, work on our timing and just get familiar with one another before the season starts."

Tuesday's game was one-sided through three quarters but that didn't keep the crowd from having a good time. Fans lined up to enter the arena 2 1/2 hours before tip-off. Once the game began, they clapped and cheered following every basket or big defensive play and the crowd remained involved in the game right up to the final buzzer.

In a sign of how popular the league has become in Germany, the stands were dotted with fans wearing NBA gear. There was a healthy supply of Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler Wizards jerseys in the crowd as well as a few Michael Jordan Wizards jerseys.

The Wizards received one of their largest ovations with 6 minutes 30 seconds remaining in the first quarter after Darius Songaila scored the team's first points on a reverse layup, a sign that the crowd wanted to see a competitive game rather than the kind of blowout that often happens during the preseason when a team plays without key players.

"I thought the crowd was really, really good," Jordan said. "I was hoping that we could play a little bit better and make them appreciate us a little bit, but Chris Paul gave them a show and I'm sure that they appreciated NBA basketball. Hopefully, they appreciated it and want more."

Certainly, the Wizards would like to give a better showing on Friday night at Barcelona's St. George Palace.

"I think you'll see the intensity pick up a little bit more from the veteran players and we'll start getting our legs under us a little bit better," said Butler, who finished with eight points on 2-of-8 shooting Tuesday night. "We want to develop and establish a rhythm as we start going towards the regular season."

Wizards Note: One of the few bright spots in the loss was the play of Washington native DerMarr Johnson, who came off the bench to score 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting with three rebounds. Johnson, who has a non-guaranteed contract, would likely have to beat out Dixon or Brown to make the 15-man regular season roster.

"DerMarr is really doing a good job," Butler said. "He brings something to the table that could really help this team with his length and his ability to make shots. I like what he's doing for us."

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