Wizards Feel a Need to Polish Up
Concerns About Defense, Effort and Low-Post Options Reign

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The knee is getting better, Antawn Jamison affirms, hoping to put to rest any concerns from people who remain horrified by the image of his nasty spill two weeks ago in Dallas, where Jamison crumpled to the floor following a baseline move by the Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki. Jamison hasn't experienced any discomfort or stiffness since returning to action Friday in Barcelona, and he didn't need to wear a brace or a sleeve on his right knee yesterday during one the Washington Wizards' most intense practices of the preseason.

"I'm glad everything worked out pretty well and it wasn't as severe as they thought it would be," said Jamison, who was forced to miss three preseason games with the injury. "No limitations, whatsoever. I'm fine."

Jamison's knee may not be a problem, but the Wizards still have several kinks to work out before the season opener against New Jersey on Oct. 29. And with preseason games remaining against San Antonio and Cleveland, Coach Eddie Jordan is focusing on the team's most glaring weaknesses -- defense and conditioning.

The Wizards implemented assistant Randy Ayers's new defensive system last season and it resulted in some drastic improvements. But despite the relative continuity of the roster, Jordan said there has been little carryover. That has resulted in blown assignments, communication breakdowns and easy scoring opportunities for opponents. In the first quarter of their two losses against New Orleans in Europe, the Wizards surrendered a combined 68 points.

"We know who the culprits are -- the starters. That's no secret," Jordan said. "I thought it was my responsibility that they commit themselves to defense and we haven't done that thus far. We have to concentrate better and be more committed and more sincere about the defensive effort. Not only the effort, but the execution of it."

Jamison said the Wizards are struggling while trying to find a replacement for center Brendan Haywood, who could miss the entire the season following surgery on his right wrist. His replacements have been Etan Thomas, a veteran who is still working himself back after missing all of last season with a heart ailment; Andray Blatche, who leads the team in scoring this preseason but has baffled the team with his inconsistency; and JaVale McGee, a rookie who is raw athletically and still trying to grasp the team's plays. Aside from providing a defensive presence, Haywood was also a vocal leader on that end of the floor.

"We got accustomed to Brendan being out there and talking. I got accustomed to him telling me where to be at," Jamison said. "That's a luxury that we don't have and that I think we definitely need to get situated quickly, as far as which big is going to start for us, which big is going to play significant minutes for us."

Jamison sent his most pointed criticism toward Blatche, a player Jamison thought would be the X-factor for the Wizards this season. "He hasn't showed it yet," Jamison said. "Right now, it's a toss-up. Is he going to get it or not? I won't say I'm disappointed yet, but he hasn't showed it."

The Wizards have had back-to-back grueling practices, which Thomas said took them "back to training camp." Caron Butler they said were among the best practices since he joined the Wizards three years ago. Butler wouldn't put too much stock in the losses to New Orleans but added that the team still has to show some growth this week. Although the Wizards have struggled on both ends of the floor, Butler said they wouldn't use injuries to Haywood and Gilbert Arenas as crutches.

"We haven't been whole in a long time, and at the same time, we've been pretty used to the naysayers," Butler said, before using a boxing analogy. "Our team represents Bernard Hopkins, his situation. Everybody said what he couldn't do and at 43, he put the beatdown on [middleweight champion Kelly] Pavlik. When you see that and you see what's been happening over the course of the years with this basketball team, a lot of people saying, 'This happens, they can't do it.' And guys make a conscious effort to get better. Collectively, we get over the hump."

Jamison said that wouldn't happen unless the team gets better defensively. "Offensively, I'm not worried about that. Eventually, Tuff Juice will start pounding his chest and DeShawn, all this," Jamison said, waving his hand in front of his face. "But we can't feel that there is a switch we can just turn on as soon as the season gets started. We are a veteran team and sometimes you can do that, but I just think these last two preseason games we have to mentally get into it."

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