Wizards changing the tempo to change outcome

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 9, 2009

When the Washington Wizards grab a defensive rebound, Coach Flip Saunders usually starts winding his arm, encouraging his team to push the ball up the floor and get a rebound. But it often is a wasted motion, as he watches Gilbert Arenas survey the court and slowly dribble up the court to set up the next play.

Saunders addressed that problem Tuesday, as the Wizards (7-12) hope to change their fortunes by changing the tempo. Saunders said his team needs to run more.

"We haven't had as much of a thrust with the ball," Saunders said. "We want [Arenas]to be aggressive with the ball, whether it's scoring or distributing, but we cannot walk the ball up the court. That's something we've really been trying to work on, from the beginning of training camp. If there is a miss, we shouldn't be in any sort of set play. We haven't done as a good a job as we need to."

The Wizards rank third in the NBA in total rebounds (43.6), seventh in defensive rebounds (31.4) and seventh in defensive field goal percentage (44.3). Saunders said that with those numbers, his team should produce easier baskets, especially on the break. But the Wizards average just 11.9 fast-break points per game. Fast-break points are defined as points scored within six seconds without a clock stoppage.

"Right now, we're trying to get a better thrust with the ball and trying to get more open-floor opportunities," Saunders said. "I'm usually trying to wave my arm to get him to tell [Arenas] to run faster. It's one of those things, we had more of an emphasis of trying to get out and get some easier buckets."

The Wizards average 95.3 possessions per game, which ranks 13th in the league, but they rank 23rd in offensive efficiency (100.9), which is defined as points scored per 100 possessions. A major reason for their limited efficiency is their reliance on long jumpers, especially three-pointers.

Despite shooting 32.4 percent from beyond the three-point line (21st in the NBA), the Wizards have attempted 50 three-pointers in the past two losses to Toronto and Detroit, missing 34. "We've got to make the ball move, be more aggressive going to the basket -- too many jumpers," said Antawn Jamison, who missed 10 of 12 three-point attempts the past two losses.

Saunders said the Wizards are often forced to go for "home run" shots because of their slow starts. Washington has trailed after the first quarter in 10 games this season. They are 1-9 in those contests. He said the key is being more assertive from the opening tip, but added he hasn't decided whether to use scripted plays at the beginning.

"When you don't score and you fall behind, you take the path of least resistance, which is usually three-point shots," Saunders said. "That's the easiest one to get off, because that's the one they don't guard as much. There is a reason they don't guard that. You just have to do more things to almost exert our will and where we want to get the ball at the spots we want to get it to."

James practices

Mike James practiced for the first time on Tuesday since breaking his left ring finger last month. Saunders said that James "showed a little rust" but he played hard.

"It's better to be practicing than on the sideline. It's a difference when you're training and working than when you're on the basketball court. It's an entirely different type of training, and so it felt good to be out there," said James, who made one appearance this season, scoring six points with three assists in a loss to Indiana on Nov. 6. "I've been running stairs here in the arena, drill work with my trainer and just doing thing constantly to make sure when I come back, I know that it's going to be tough, not playing as far as with the team for a while, but overall I knew I wouldn't be too far behind."

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