Wizards' 'Equal Opportunity Offense' Is Catching On

The Magic's Dwight Howard blocks a shot by Caron Butler in the Wizards' 87-86 win Wednesday.
The Magic's Dwight Howard blocks a shot by Caron Butler in the Wizards' 87-86 win Wednesday. "We have to continue to move the ball," Butler said. (By Phelan M. Ebenhack -- Associated Press)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 23, 2008; Page D06

The Wizards came out of the locker room after halftime at Orlando on Wednesday night trailing by seven, but the tone for a comeback was established on the first two possessions of the half.

Twice, all-star forward Caron Butler was presented with opportunities to take a contested shot but instead passed to an open teammate for a score. The fast start got the Wizards rolling to an efficient 31-point third period, and they went on to an 87-86 victory.

During Friday's 103-86 win at Miami, unselfish play allowed the Wizards to rack up 25 assists and cruise to their fifth win in six games.

As the Wizards (35-33) prepare for tonight's game against the Detroit Pistons at Verizon Center, Coach Eddie Jordan would like to see a similar approach. The Pistons (49-19) are among the league's elite teams because they balance an efficient attack with one of the league's best defenses.

The Pistons rank second in the NBA in points allowed per game (90.8) and opponent shooting percentage (43.8).

Coach Flip Saunders's team thrives on taking away a team's first or second option, and opponents who fall into the trap of relying on one-on-one basketball rarely experience success so patience, execution and crisp passing will be keys for the Wizards as they attempt to avenge a 106-93 home loss to the Pistons on Jan. 2.

"We've got to have balance and guys making good cuts and then, as long as you have the intent of being unselfish, you can help your teammate and you can help yourself," Jordan said.

In the second half of the Orlando game and throughout the Miami game, making the extra pass appeared to be contagious for the Wizards.

On Friday night, the injury-depleted Heat was hanging around until a stretch of the third period when Antonio Daniels drove and passed to Butler for an open-three pointer. Butler then found Antawn Jamison for a layup and Brendan Haywood later pushed the lead to 17 when Butler zipped a pass to him for an easy dunk.

On consecutive possessions early in the fourth quarter, Darius Songaila appeared to have open shot opportunities, but instead baited the defense and found Dominic McGuire and then Oleksiy Pecherov for easy layups.

In other cases, reversing the ball with a series of cuts and passes led to high-percentage shots.

"This is an equal opportunity offense and that's what I've been saying from the second I came here," said Butler, who is averaging a career-high 4.6 assists on the season and has racked up 18 assists in the last three games. "If you move the ball, guys are going to get a lot of opportunities and guys are understanding that. Guys are going to get their numbers and have good numbers but we have to continue to move the ball and make it difficult for teams to key in one person."

The Wizard drawing the most attention lately is Jamison, who nonetheless continues to stack up impressive numbers. With 22 points and 10 rebounds Friday, Jamison posted the 39th double-double of the season, which is already a career-high.

Jordan's system makes it difficult for teams to load up on Jamison because of the constant ball and player movement, and Jamison's ability to either set a screen and "pop" to the three-point line or set a screen and "roll" to the basket makes him a tricky player to guard.

However, Jamison is expecting a difficult challenge tonight against the Pistons and fellow University of North Carolina product Rasheed Wallace.

"Detroit is a great defensive team so we can't get frustrated when things aren't going well offensively," Jamison said. "And defensively, we really need to be on one accord, so that is going to be the task at hand."

Though pleased that the recent stretch of solid play has moved the Wizards into sole possession of fifth place in the Eastern Conference, one-half game ahead of Toronto, Jordan is anything but giddy.

"I don't know," Jordan answered when asked if his team could continue building on recent success. "You go through 82 games man and it's like playing 18 holes of golf. You hit a few great shots and you say: 'How can I follow this up?' And you can't. But if we can keep our energy up and come in with a professional mind-set, then we can get things done."

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