New coach Gar Heard and the Washington Wizards will unveil a more aggressive, full-court style of play when they open the season tonight against the Atlanta Hawks at MCI Center.
After an offseason in which they also drafted guard Richard Hamilton--one of eight new players--and made Mitch Richmond the highest-paid shooting guard in the NBA, the Wizards now say it is time to convince their detractors that their losing ways are history.
"I would love to say we will win many games this year, and we will," said General Manager Wes Unseld, whose team went 18-32 last season. "We are going to be in the playoffs. I have no doubt. I want to get back to Bullets basketball. Teams did not like to see us in the arena. They would rather be doing something else that night."
A solid showing tonight over a revamped Hawks team would be a good start, Heard said. However, Heard is fully aware a slow start is a possibility because of a rash of preseason injuries. The Wizards have had just two practices--both over the past two days--with their full team.
Only starting small forward Juwan Howard failed to miss a day of the preseason.
"I would like to see us start off on a high note but I won't be disappointed if things don't go right right away because of all the injuries," Heard said. "Ike Austin played one half in the preseason. Mitch Richmond played a game and a half and Aaron Williams played 13 minutes.
"It's amazing that we've accomplished the things that we've done with Jahidi White, Richard Hamilton, Laron Profit and those guys. It's going to take us a while to jell. I'm not saying we're not going to win because we're going to try to go out and win every game."
Austin will play--and possibly start--after missing roughly the past two weeks with a strained left hip flexor. Austin began full-speed drills three days ago and may be worked gradually into the lineup. White, who started five of six preseason games, would start if Austin does not.
"It's important to get off to a great start to gain respect and to try and get the team together as quick as we can," Austin said.
"We need to get all five starters on the court at the same time as soon as possible. We need to get everybody in their roles. Once we get that down, the quicker we get it down the better."
Williams, who missed most of the preseason with back spasms and a thigh bruise, also resumed full drills yesterday and will spell Michael Smith.
Having a deep front court and healthy back court should prove beneficial against the Hawks, who have gotten younger and more athletic through trades and the draft.
Point guard Bimbo Coles and shooting guard Jim Jackson, acquired in trades with Golden State and Portland, respectively, will start against the Wizards' back court of Rod Strickland and Richmond.
Hawks shooting guard Isaiah Rider will miss the game because of a family medical emergency, the team said last night.
Unlike the perimeter-oriented schemes the Wizards used last season under coach Bernie Bickerstaff, Heard's squad will be constantly on the move. In half-court sets, they will run numerous plays off high-post screens. Defensively, the Wizards will pressure the ball and utilize a variety of traps, particularly in the corners.
"I think the style of play will be more aggressive," Heard said. "You'll see us more aggressive on the defensive end. On offense, rebounding-wise we should be better."
Wizards Notes: Richmond and Howard were selected by their teammates as co-captains. . . . Rookie center Calvin Booth (strained right hamstring), forward Lorenzo Williams (recovering from knee surgery) and guard Reggie Jordan (right knee tendinitis) were placed on the injured list. Under NBA rules, they must miss the first five games of the season.