Wizards Now Turn Attention To Opener

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Wizards were in their locker room after Friday night's preseason-closing loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Columbus, Ohio, when all-star forward and co-captain Caron Butler delivered a message to a group of his teammates.

"All right y'all, get your rest tomorrow and come in Sunday ready to go at it," Butler said. "Let's be ready to do what we gotta do."

Second-year forward Dominic McGuire, whom the Wizards are counting on to make major strides this season, heard the message and nodded in agreement before heading to the team bus.

The Wizards, who capped a 2-5 preseason with a ragged 107-80 loss to Cleveland, were given a day off yesterday but will hit the court this morning for what promises to be an intense practice geared toward Wednesday night's regular season opener against Vince Carter and the New Jersey Nets at Verizon Center.

Priority No. 1 for Coach Eddie Jordan will be getting his team to perform as it did in Wednesday's 100-95 win at San Antonio. A starting unit of Butler, Antawn Jamison, DeShawn Stevenson, Antonio Daniels and Etan Thomas hit the court that night with a level of energy and focus that has been lacking throughout most of the preseason, and the team's reserves, including McGuire, followed suit.

The result was crisp ball movement, precise offensive execution and solid defensive rotations. Before his team ended the preseason Friday night, Jordan challenged his players to match the level of effort and concentration they displayed against the Spurs.

"We talked about that in pregame," Jordan said. "We told them: 'You deserve to show yourselves that you can do it again, you owe it to yourself. That you can come out here and perform the same way. The same effort, the level of execution, the same approach.' "

After a solid start, the Wizards failed to do that. The stakes will be much higher starting Wednesday night.

"Everybody's kind of loose [during the] preseason," said Stevenson, who averaged 7.3 points on 34 percent shooting in seven games. "But now you see the locker room tightening up a little bit. Guys are getting more into a routine, their little pre-game rituals. I know I am. So, you see guys starting to get focused more on what they need to do starting Wednesday. It's time."

Jordan mixed and matched lineups and used as many as 18 players. The Wizards were excellent in the win over the Spurs and solid in a win at Memphis but also were blown out three times by quality opponents (twice by the New Orleans Hornets in Europe and by the Cavaliers on Friday night).

Stevenson said the team has grown accustomed to playing without three-time all-star guard Gilbert Arenas, who is expected to miss at least the first month of the regular season with a left knee injury, and starting center Brendan Haywood, who will be out four to six months following right wrist surgery.

"We had some ups and downs [during the preseason]," Stevenson said. "Sometimes we looked good and sometimes we looked bad, so we have to evaluate ourselves. We don't have the luxury of having Gilbert and Brendan right now, so guys are going to have to step up, be in the gym and be ready to help us."

Butler set a good tone by playing aggressively early on during each of the final three preseason games. Along with Jamison, Butler is expected to carry the scoring load, and his passing and playmaking skills will be crucial to overcoming the absence of Arenas.

"Every night, I know that myself as a captain and one of the leaders on this team, I have to come out with an extreme amount of energy," Butler said. "It's not necessarily about shots made and missed. It's about energy and establishing some type of rhythm for the first group. I know I have to bring that for this ballclub. It's an implied pressure, but I can handle that."

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