The Washington Wizards have lost four out of five games and it won't take a lot of soul-searching to determine why: The defense has been unable to stop anybody.
After spending the preseason talking about improving a defense that finished 22nd in the league last season, the Wizards (3-4) have regressed.
They are last in the league in team defense after seven games, conceding a staggering 104.4 points per game -- almost two points more than the Atlanta Hawks (102.5) and seven points more than last season. Opponents are shooting 48 percent, which ranks fourth-worst in the league. The defensive deficiencies are overshadowing an offense that is averaging 99.7 points.
"It has to get better," Wizards center Brendan Haywood said. "Everybody has to take pride in [defense]. You can't look at it like 'I score, you score.' It has to be, 'I score, you don't score.' You have to take pride and make your man shoot a low percentage, because that's the only way we're going to correct this thing defensively. One person is not going to do it. It's going to have to be everybody, from the guys that start to the guys on the bench."
The difference in defensive intensity is glaring in wins and losses. In their three victories, Wizards' opponents averaged 94 points and did not reach triple digits. Also, the Wizards forced foes to shoot 43.1 percent. In their four losses, the Wizards conceded an average of 112 points and allowed teams to shoot 51.8 percent.
"A big problem is that we let our offense dictate the way we play defense," forward Antawn Jamison said. "If it's not going well offensively, it's not going to go well defensively. We just have to do a better job as far as playing great, fundamentally sound basketball on the defensive end."
The Wizards lead the league in steals at 10.14 per game, a statistic that masks their inability to stop dribble penetration and defend perimeter shooters. Deficiencies in perimeter defense were obvious in a 122-113 loss against the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, when the Mavericks shot 12 of 19 from beyond the three-point line.
Coach Eddie Jordan does not believe perimeter defense was the only problem. "Our interior defense, too," he said. "Outside of Brendan clogging the middle up to a certain degree . . . we're small and we're light in the pants."
Haywood has returned from his three-game suspension and ranks third in the league in blocks per game (3.5), but the Wizards have only won one of the four games in which he has played, conceding 106.5 points in those contests. The Wizards won't harp on the absences of Kwame Brown and Etan Thomas, two of the team's best defenders and rebounders, but they also rank 25th in rebounding (40.14) and have the second-largest negative rebounding margin in the league at minus-6.72 rebounds per game.
"There are problems, yes, but we can't dwell on it. We can't talk about it," Jordan said. "We just have to play the guys we play. We are a team."
Wizards Notes: Haywood had his best game this season against the Mavericks, scoring 20 points -- three fewer than his career high -- on 9-of-10 shooting, with nine rebounds, five steals and four blocks. Haywood fouled out with four points in his first game against the Miami Heat last week, but he has scored in double figures in the past three games and has recorded 11 blocks in the past two games.
Haywood is averaging 11.8 points and 6.3 rebounds; he leads the team in field goal percentage at 71.4 percent (20 of 38).
"He is back, and I was glad to see it. I hope it's a sign of his maturity that he can keep doing it every night," Jordan said. "We saw a drop in his game because of the suspension. He had not played basketball in two weeks, since the last preseason game. It took him awhile to get his rhythm and his game back." . . .
After back-to-back afternoon games, the Wizards didn't practice yesterday. They will face the Boston Celtics tomorrow at MCI Center.