With Arenas, Haywood out, Wizards Harp on the Need for a Fast Start

With Brendan Haywood, above, and Gilbert Arenas injured, the Wizards feel the need to start quickly or risk the young players losing confidence.
With Brendan Haywood, above, and Gilbert Arenas injured, the Wizards feel the need to start quickly or risk the young players losing confidence. (By Pablo Martinez Monsivais -- Associated Press)
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By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 27, 2008

One of the most impressive aspects of the Washington Wizards' 43-win effort last season was the way the team recovered from an 0-5 start.

Following an ugly 118-92 home loss to the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 9 -- players were booed as they left the Verizon Center floor -- the winless Wizards rolled off six straight victories to keep themselves from descending into the Eastern Conference cellar.

This season, the conference is projected to be more competitive from top to bottom and it could be crucial for the short-handed Wizards to get off to a better start.

It all begins Wednesday night with the opener against the New Jersey Nets at Verizon Center, but the season's first 15 days also feature challenging road contests at Detroit, Milwaukee and Orlando, as well as a home game against West power Utah.

"We have to go out there and handle business," shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson said. "You can't go out there starting off slow. A lot of teams in the East got better with trades and other moves, and if we don't get off to a good start, we could be left behind. We have to go out there ready to play good basketball early."

With that in mind, the Wizards gathered for practice yesterday with a renewed sense of purpose. Coach Eddie Jordan was not happy with how his team performed during Friday's preseason-ending loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers and stated that he could identify only eight players who appeared to be ready to play the way he wants them to play in the regular season.

One of those players includes two-time all-star Caron Butler, who plans to meet with fellow co-captain Antawn Jamison to outline a plan for setting the team's tone for Wednesday night.

For one thing, Butler doesn't expect any of Washington's opponents to care that the team will be without three-time all-star Gilbert Arenas and projected starting center Brendan Haywood. Arenas will miss at least the first month of the season with his injured left knee while Haywood is expected to miss four to six months following right wrist surgery.

"We have to get us over that hump," Butler said. "Nobody is going to feel sorry for us about injuries. With Brendan and Gilbert being out, it is what it is. We have what we have and I believe that it's enough to come and play winning basketball. That's the attitude we have to take into the start of the season."

Jamison believes that getting off to a solid start will serve as a confidence boost for the team's young core of players, a group that includes fourth-year forward-center Andray Blatche, the

second-year trio of Nick Young, Dominic McGuire and Oleksiy Pecherov, and rookie center JaVale McGee.

All five players are vying for roles in a rotation that otherwise comprises veterans.

"To start the way we started last year, we had Brendan, we had Roger [Mason Jr.], and we had vets, so we didn't panic," Jamison said. "Now, we have a lot of young guys, and that's one thing you wonder about. What would happen if we started like that? How would that affect their confidence? So that's why we need to have that sense of urgency. It's vital for us to start off well."

Wizards Notes: The NBA released its annual survey of general managers. GMs picked Miami (40.7 percent) when asked which team would win the Southeast Division, with Orlando (37 percent) and the Wizards (22.2 percent) also receiving votes. General managers could not vote for their own teams. When asked to select a winner in the East, they picked Boston (25.9 percent), Detroit (25.9 percent), Chicago (22.2 percent) and Miami (14.8 percent). At least one GM picked the Wizards to win the East. . . .

The Wizards have until Friday to pick up the third-year contract options on Young and Pecherov. If the team declines to pick up either player's option, he would become an unrestricted free agent after this season.

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