Wizards reemphasizing defense after latest fourth-quarter collapse

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 7, 2011; 12:22 AM

An improved defensive effort has been the Washington Wizards' mantra since last month's trade of Gilbert Arenas helped reshape the image of the franchise. Yet, they spent Thursday refocusing themselves on that goal after letting yet another game slip away in crunch time.

With a one-point lead Wednesday night in Philadelphia, the Wizards proceeded to allow 29 points over the final nine minutes before losing, 109-97. It was the latest example of Washington's inability to close out teams, much less do so on the road, where the Wizards remain the NBA's only winless team.

"We've got to play better in the fourth quarter," Wizards Coach Flip Saunders said, looking ahead to Friday's home game against the New Jersey Nets. "We have had a lot of games where we've had opportunities, but we just haven't been able to finish off those games. We've finished off some games, but not a lot of them."

JaVale McGee said he expects to have eyes on his defense of Nets center Brook Lopez, who is becoming one of the league's better young big men. Lopez scored 18 points in the Nets' 97-89 victory over the Wizards on Dec. 17.

"Try to do my best to uphold the defense we need to play to win games," McGee said, "against him especially, because he's basically their scorer."

McGee works on dunks

Big men have not always fared well in the NBA's Slam Dunk Contest, but McGee, who was selected this week as one of the four participants, said he's prepared to change that.

As the franchise's first participant, McGee was selected along with the Clippers' Blake Griffin, Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka, and Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings for the contest on Feb. 19 in Los Angeles.

"I've seen Griffin do some stuff on YouTube on some high school dunk contests," McGee said. "I got a lot of exciting stuff that hasn't been done in the dunk contest before."

Along with Kevin Seraphin and Cartier Martin, McGee spent the end of practice showing off a couple of moves, including going baseline and touching the ball off of the side of the backboard before trying to throw it down.

McGee knows his history, and he replicated a windmill jam done by the first dunk contest winner, 6-foot-10 Larry Nance, in 1984. Aside from Nance, though, Orlando's Dwight Howard in 2008 has been the only big man to win a dunk contest.

"I'm gonna show some people that big men can dunk, too," McGee said, "just like Dwight did."

Howard likely 'doubtful'

Josh Howard sat out Thursday's practice with a sore left knee and his status for Friday's game against New Jersey was termed "probably doubtful" by Saunders. Howard played just 12 minutes against Philadelphia, his eighth appearance this season since his debut Dec. 18 against Miami, after recovering from offseason knee surgery. . . .

A day after the Wizards released reserve guard Lester Hudson, Saunders said the team does not have any immediate plans to sign anyone else to fill the 15-man roster. . . .

The team also assigned rookie center Hamady Ndiaye to the Dakota Wizards of the NBA Development League. Ndiaye has played in only four games this season.

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