After putting his team through a two-hour, defense-only practice yesterday, Washington Wizards Coach Gar Heard said he wants to see a better effort from his team and did not rule out turning to his reserves early if play doesn't improve.

"The rope is getting short," Heard said. "I don't want to panic now, but we've got to have some guys out there that are going to give us some energy. We're not getting anything consistently."

Heard, whose Wizards have dropped three straight games after winning the season opener, does not have any lineup changes in mind entering Wednesday night's game against the Seattle SuperSonics at MCI Center. A player's game performance will dictate how long he will stay on the court, Heard said.

"I'm not afraid of hurting anybody's ego," Heard said.

Guard Mitch Richmond's sore right knee, caused by an on-court collision Saturday night against the Orlando Magic, may keep him out of the starting lineup in favor of rookie Richard Hamilton. Richmond was kept out of practice yesterday as a precaution but is listed as probable. If he can practice today, he likely will start, Heard said.

Other than a 20-point effort in a loss to Boston, Richmond has struggled, especially at home, where he has made just 6 of 24 shots. Limited to a handful of practices and preseason games because of a hamstring injury, Richmond, who is averaging 10.8 points, admits he is not in rhythm.

There have been other flaws in the team's play, mainly on defense. In their three losses, the Wizards have allowed an average of 110 points--44 per game from the lane. Washington also has been outscored in the fourth quarter of all its losses, a problem Heard blames on effort.

"We're mad at what we're not doing more so than anything," Richmond said. "It's a difficult time right now for the whole team. It's an 82-game season, but we've got to start trying to find some answers to what's going on before it gets too late."

For Heard, one such answer would be better play as a team.

"The talent on this team is not overstated," Heard said. "What we have to do is we have to make that talent mesh together. We can't mesh together when everybody wants to win the game himself instead of trying to let the team win the game. Everybody thinks he's good enough to carry the team."

Heard said the only area in which the Wizards are getting solid play every game is at both forward positions.

Power forward Michael Smith has been the team's most consistent player, getting rebounds and playing solid defense, Heard said. Small forward Juwan Howard, the team's leading scorer with 16.3 points per game, has maintained a high level of play as well, the coach said.

Still, part of the reason opponents are getting so many inside shots is because the Wizards are shooting too many quick jump shots and then are getting caught out of position defensively in transition, Heard said. The Wizards had a similar problem last season, in which they finished 18-32.

"You've got to break old habits," Heard said. "We had three key guys--Mitch, Ike [Austin] and Rod [Strickland]--that didn't go through a full training camp. They don't have the concept down that we want. Everything is built around team defense. We're gambling on defense and taking quick shots.

"Teams are getting easy baskets on us. They're getting so many layups while we're settling for jump shots. It's hard to break those habits, but at some point it's got to get across. We will reverse it. You can count on that."

What has distressed Heard the most, though, is his team's lack of consistent effort and its lack of passion in a game's crucial moments. After embarrassing road losses to the Celtics and the previously winless New Jersey Nets, Heard said he did not see any of his players try to take charge to get the team back on track.

"I can't get a read on this team yet," Heard said. "I think we're ready to play and play hard, and we get on the court and that's not the case. The part that bothers me is when we've got a chance to win games, we don't give ourselves a chance to win.

"We'll have a close lead or rally to trim a deficit, and the next thing you know, it's a big deficit. We have to start doing the things to give ourselves a chance to win, and then we have to make the plays that will get us the win."