Wizards, Still Struggling on Defense, Face Pistons, Struggling with Iverson

The Pistons added Allen Iverson, with ball, and have gone 7-8, while the Wizards are 2-5 under Ed Tapscott.
The Pistons added Allen Iverson, with ball, and have gone 7-8, while the Wizards are 2-5 under Ed Tapscott. (By Eric Gay -- Associated Press)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Wizards shook up their team by firing Eddie Jordan and replacing him with Ed Tapscott on Nov. 24. The team is 2-5 since the move and coming off losses to the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls.

The Pistons made a similarly drastic move by trading popular and proven point guard Chauncey Billups to Denver for Allen Iverson on Nov. 3.

They are 7-8 since Iverson made his Detroit debut and are coming off a 104-92 loss to the New York Knicks on Sunday.

If they didn't understand it before the moves were made, both teams will go into tonight's game at Verizon Center having learned that change doesn't necessarily lead to instant improvement.

While the Pistons (11-8) continue to adjust to life without Billups and with Iverson, the Wizards (3-15) are trying to figure out how to turn competitive efforts into victories. They fell to 0-8 in games decided by seven points or less with Saturday's 117-110 loss at Chicago and continue to be plagued by the same kinds of lulls that led to a 1-10 start and the dismissal of Jordan.

The third quarter has been particularly problematic. They've been outscored in the third 13 times this season and in 10 of those games, they had led at halftime.

The Bulls held a 31-22 scoring edge and shot 65 percent during the third quarter Saturday night and one night earlier, the Lakers held a 29-19 advantage and shot 53.6 percent. In both games, the Wizards came back from double-digit halftime deficits but spent so much energy in the process, they didn't have enough to close the game.

"What I'm going to do maybe is tell my guys that we start the second half in the fourth quarter and just skip out the third quarter altogether and go right to the fourth," Tapscott said. "Maybe that will solve the problems of our doldrums. But one of the things you can't do is succumb to frustration. You've got to keep a positive attitude and absent a win, the next thing you look for is the positive things to build on. We are in the winning business so I don't look for moral victories, but I do have to look for foundational things to build on."

Improved defense was one of those "foundational things" Tapscott emphasized when he took over, but so far his team has displayed the same level of commitment at the defensive end as it did under Jordan, who was let go two days after a short-handed Knicks team blitzed the Wizards with 16 three-pointers and 122 points.

The Bulls racked up a season-high 31 assists, made a season-high 11 threes and scored a season-high 117 points one night after the Lakers shot 50 percent and scored 106 points. In both games, the Bulls and Lakers found success by moving the ball from one side of the court to the other and catching the Wizards late on rotations.

The team knew that it would face a major adjustment when it lost center and defensive anchor Brendan Haywood late in training camp to a wrist injury, but it's had the entire preseason and 18 regular season games to get things worked out.

"A lot of it is staying hugged up on our man when the ball goes from one side to another," forward Antawn Jamison said. "Instead of moving when the ball moves on the weak side, we get caught standing there and then a guy makes a move, you go help late, he passes and you're in a scramble situation. Brendan's been out for a while so it's no excuse. It's something we've been working on all season long and it's just not clicking."

Though he has used more zone defensive looks than Jordan did, Tapscott hasn't changed the team's basic defensive packages and continues to emphasize execution to his team in practice and in lengthy film sessions.

Tapscott correctly pointed out that the team really began playing its defense in January last season, but that was with Haywood, a healthy Antonio Daniels, who has been limited by right knee soreness all season, and Roger Mason Jr., who signed with the Spurs.

"Help defense, team defense is based on trust, and trust is not an event quality, it's a process quality," Tapscott said. "We keep working on it. Last year, it was January before we really thought we had the defensive process down, where we had the type of trust where guys would get in and help and then be able to get out to their man. We're still in that process now and we're going to keep hammering home those points."

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