A day after Washington Wizards Coach Doug Collins lashed out at his players for their uninspired practices following a 98-79 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, the team was put through an intense, two-hour workout that guard Larry Hughes likened to training camp.
"I was very happy with the way the team responded," Collins said outside of the Wizards' locker room at MCI Center. "They practiced hard. They were focused. And to a man, they all knew that we have to be better."
Tuesday night "was probably the best thing that could have happened to this team," he added. "It gave me a chance to address a lot of the things I've been feeling. And the reality of it is that it was right there for everyone to see."
The 10-9 Blazers dominated Washington from the outset, dictating the tempo, racing to a double-digit lead that at one point reached 26 and, in the end, handing the Wizards their worst defeat of the season.
The sellout crowd at MCI Center booed. Guard Michael Jordan called the performance "sad" and "embarrassing." And Collins, who rarely criticizes his team publicly, cited the players' lack of intensity in practice the day before for their flat performance.
"From my standpoint, what it said to me more than anything else is that we have to have tougher, more competitive practices," Collins said. "The duration is not as important as the intensity. And for us to get a different identity. Right now we don't have an identity. Whenever I've been in situations like this, Chicago or Detroit, I always say it goes back to the practice court. And to the habits you are practicing and what you're doing to prepare yourself for the game. We're not a good practicing team, and that has to change. That doesn't mean I have to be yelling and ranting and raving, but I've got to put demands on this team and that we do things right and we do them with intensity."
Yesterday, there was no film session and no walk-through, just an exhausting, up-and-down-the-court workout. It was something several players said they needed and deserved.
"Sometimes players think they are playing harder than they really are," said Hughes, who had a team-high 17 points and 11 rebounds Tuesday night. "We worked pretty hard today. It was like a mini training camp. But if we want to be a good team, we have to work hard. We have to fight through pains and tired legs and not wanting to be here [for practice]. That's something we're going to have to do if we want to get the rewards."
Forward Bryon Russell added: "It was good. It was one of those practices that's either going to make us or break us. We worked, and that's something we needed to do. . . . If we don't start giving it our all, we're going to finish below .500 and not make the playoffs. [Tuesday's loss] was the whole team. None of us came ready to play. I'm sure practice everyday from now on is going to be good."
The Wizards will find out whether their new-and-improved approach to practices actually pays off Friday when they begin a three-game road trip in New Jersey. They continue on to Toronto, where they will face a Vince Carter-less Raptors squad on Sunday before wrapping up in Atlanta on Tuesday.
"We've only played 21 games," Collins said. "We've got 61 games left. We have a lot of time to get things right and make the playoffs."
Wizards Notes: Injured rookie guard Juan Dixon, who underwent an MRI exam on his sprained left elbow yesterday, is not likely to return to the lineup for at least another two weeks, Collins said. The results of the exam won't be known until today, a team spokesman said. . . . A Toronto spokesman said the team has no plans for any tribute to commemorate Jordan's final appearance at Air Canada Centre on Sunday.