Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan has been preaching defense since his team gathered for the first training camp practice on Oct. 4, but to keep his message fresh, the third-year coach has turned to a few unique techniques this preseason.
For instance, before the last three games, Jordan asked different players to jot defensive goals for that night's game on the dry erase board in the locker room.
Issues have included opponents' total points, opponents' field goal percentage, fouls, steals and blocks.
"I want the guys to feel ownership over what we're doing a little bit," Jordan said. "The idea is that if they have a hand in setting the goals, they'll be even more motivated to go out and meet them. It's just a little different way of going about it."
Aside from finishing third in the NBA in steals per game (8.7), defense was not a Washington staple last season. The Wizards allowed 100.8 points per game, 23rd in the league, and allowed opponents to shoot 45.9 percent from the field, which ranked 24th.
The task of improving on those numbers was made difficult when first-team all-NBA defender Larry Hughes, who led the league with 2.9 steals per game, signed a free agent contract with Cleveland.
"We have to play more as a defensive unit rather than trying to rely on a stopper to do the team's job," Jordan said. "We have to stay on the same page as far as our schemes and we have to play harder."
So far, the Wizards have shown signs of taking defense more seriously, but fully evaluating the team's progress has been made difficult by injuries that have hit the team.
All-star guard Gilbert Arenas has played in only four games and might miss tomorrow's preseason finale at Indiana because of an eye abrasion he suffered during last Friday's game against Denver in Los Angeles.
Like Hughes, Arenas excelled at defending the passing lanes last season, and he has vowed to be more fundamentally sound this season.
"There are times when our defense is good, and there are times when our defense is bad," Arenas said. "Defense is about mentally wanting to get it done. You have to want it. You have to love to play defense. It can't be on the coaches to make me play defense; I have to go out there and want to do it."
The Wizards are allowing 97.6 points per game during the preseason, and opponents are shooting 46.6 percent. The Wizards hold advantages over their opponents in rebounding (311-301), steals (69-57) and free throw attempts (260-206).
Jordan wants his players to continue to attack the passing lanes, but he also wants to see his guards and forwards do a better job of cutting off penetration into the lane while still pressuring shooters.
"You contain the basketball, you help, recover and rebound," Jordan said. "If we can do those things and contest shots, that's all you can ask for. The NBA is so good, people are going to score against good defense. You have to survive those daggers."
Wizards Notes: According to a recent survey of NBA general managers conducted by NBA.com, Cleveland's signing of Hughes was the offseason move that will make the biggest impact. The Hughes signing received 50 percent of the votes, while Atlanta's signing of former Phoenix swingman Joe Johnson received 16.7 percent and San Antonio's signing of former Dallas guard Michael Finley received 12.5 percent. . . .
Forward Caron Butler said he is hopeful that terms of a contract extension can be reached before Monday's deadline. Butler, who is in the final season of his original rookie contract, would be a restricted free agent following the season if he and the Wizards do not agree to an extension.