Wizards Have Their Work Cut Out

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 19, 2008

BARCELONA, Oct. 18 -- The Washington Wizards left Europe with a pair of losses to the New Orleans Hornets, a preseason record of 1-4 and plenty of work to do between Sunday's practice at Verizon Center and the Oct. 29 regular season opener against the New Jersey Nets.

Exhibition games are little more than glorified scrimmages -- even when played in front of the kinds of excellent crowds the Wizards and Hornets entertained in Berlin and Barcelona -- so it can be misleading to read too much into final scores. But the way in which the Wizards lost raised questions.

One of the biggest: How is this team going to consistently generate points without three-time all-star Gilbert Arenas, who is expected to miss at least the first month of the regular season?

Assuming they stay healthy, Coach Eddie Jordan every night can count on Caron Butler for 20 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists and Antawn Jamison for 20 points and 10 rebounds.

After those two, however, things get interesting.

Second-year shooting guard Nick Young, who showed an ability to score last season, is supposed to help, but he's been bothered by a bad right knee and didn't make the trip to Europe. Following Friday's 102-80 loss in Barcelona, Jordan said he did not know when Young would be cleared for a return to full activity.

Andray Blatche leads the team in preseason scoring at 10.8 points per game, but he's shooting 33.8 percent from the field, is not an accurate outside shooter and has yet to develop a consistent go-to game in the post.

No other player on the roster is remotely capable of providing the kind of scoring punch Arenas can when healthy.

"You really notice when he's not there when you only score nine points in a quarter and the other teams scores [36]," Jordan said in reference to the first quarter of Tuesday's 96-80 loss in Berlin. "We really had some scoring droughts, so that punch is what you really miss when he's not in there. That is why we need to have our young guys develop, but unfortunately, one of our young stars, Nick Young, is at home. We're looking for Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, Oleksiy Pecherov and Dominic McGuire to play major minutes in the preseason and develop."

One simple solution for the Wizards, who are averaging 78.6 points on 37.1-percent shooting during the preseason, would be to crank up the defensive effort. But that has also been an issue.

The Wizards are allowing 91.8 points per game on 43.7-percent shooting and were taken apart by the Hornets and their star point guard Chris Paul, who gave Washington fits in the pick-and-roll game and by using dribble penetration to draw the defense and find teammates for wide-open shots.

Washington's defensive rotations were often late or did not come at all, and that left the Hornets with far too many open shots.

Part of the issue is that Jordan gave heavy minutes to young players like Blatche, Pecherov, McGuire and McGee, all of whom are still learning the ins and outs of team defense.

However, even the veterans had their problems. And it doesn't help that projected starting center and defensive anchor Brendan Haywood is out and will miss four to six months following surgery on his right wrist.

In that light, according to Jamison, facing a Hornets team that should have one of the most efficient and dynamic offenses in the NBA this season was a good thing.

"Absolutely," said Jamison, who returned Friday night after missing three games with a right knee contusion. "It was a great test for us. Chris Paul is one of the best at what he does, and they surround him with some quality shooters. The biggest thing is we have to talk. A lot of times, we were anticipating teammates to do certain things and sometimes what we anticipated didn't happen, and that caused us problems. It's something we can learn from, watch some film of and improve on in these last two games."

Wizards Notes: As he evaluates the team's young players in game situations, Jordan continues to monitor the minutes of the team's veterans. Butler and point guard Antonio Daniels have each been given a night off, and on Friday night, center Etan Thomas played four minutes, and forward Darius Songaila nine.

"This is really for the young guys," Butler explained. "The vets, we know what we all bring to the table. The key is getting those guys a lot of playing time and allowing them to learn in game situations, because that is really the best teacher. We're going to need them."

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