By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 21, 2008
The final result was familiar -- a loss -- but the look and feel were different for the Wizards on Wednesday night against the Atlanta Hawks, and that is something Coach Eddie Jordan believes his team can build upon.
Jordan typically gives his team a day off after playing on back-to-back nights, but he held a practice yesterday. Jordan said he was leaning toward sticking with a starting lineup that includes Dee Brown at point guard and rookie JaVale McGee at center when the Wizards (1-8) host the Houston Rockets (7-5) tonight at Verizon Center.
Brown and McGee started in place of Juan Dixon and Etan Thomas, respectively.
"We're getting close," Jordan said. "We found harmony and rhythm [Wednesday night]. We started off the first quarter pretty well, we moved the ball even though we had a new starting lineup with JaVale and Dee Brown, we stayed in the quarter without falling far behind and we had a nine-point lead at one point on the road against a good opponent, so that was a good showing for us."
The next step has to be actually winning another game. They were in position to do just that Wednesday night after DeShawn Stevenson's jump shot gave Washington a four-point lead with just over a minute remaining, but the Hawks responded with three-pointers by Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams en route to a 91-87 victory.
Apart from their lone win of the season -- a 95-87 home win over the Utah Jazz last Wednesday -- the Wizards have not been able to close out games down the stretch. Late turnovers and poor shooting doomed them in Tuesday's 94-87 home loss to the Miami Heat and again at Atlanta.
The team failed to get the ball to Caron Butler or Antawn Jamison with the game on the line and, for the second straight game, second-year guard Nick Young made a crucial mistake.
Miami's Dwyane Wade picked off Young's poor cross-court pass to help put the Wizards away Tuesday. And one night later, Young tossed up an ill-advised jumper late in the game because he thought the shot clock was winding down.
"I'm just learning really," said Young, who is third on the team in scoring with an average 14.1 points per game. "Being out there for the first time late in games and playing that many minutes, it's different from last year. They're depending on me a lot more so it's a lot more pressure. I'm just trying to take it day by day and learn as I go along."
After Wednesday's game, injured guard Gilbert Arenas shared some advice with Young, who has the talent to be a late-game scoring option as the season progresses.
"I'm just trying to teach him because for some reason, whenever he has the ball, he tends to gravitate toward the wing when he's dribbling," Arenas said. "I told him he has to stay in the middle and let everyone play around him because that way, he can always attack from either side instead of cutting himself off with only one side of the court."
Starting Brown and McGee and continuing to bring Young off of the bench along with Thomas, could give the Wizards a more balanced rotation. Jordan was generally pleased with how Brown and McGee played Wednesday night.
"They performed well," Jordan said. "With JaVale, there are a lot of learning situations for him as he gets the experience. Dee was very good. I liked the way he picked the ball up [defensively], delivered the ball, had some ball movement. It was a good tempo, a good pace, good ball movement. It just seemed like the other three guys -- DeShawn, Antawn and Caron -- liked that sort of movement and rhythm we had out there."
For his part, Butler plans to be more assertive. He scored a season-high 32 points with seven rebounds and four assists Wednesday and likely needs to keep putting up similar numbers if the short-handed Wizards are going to break out of this early-season slump.
"I'm going to be more aggressive now," Butler said. "Win, lose or draw, I'm going to be more aggressive. A lot of this stuff falls on the veterans, and it's up to us to continue to keep the tempo no matter what's the case."