All-star point guard Gilbert Arenas and forward Jared Jeffries may not play tonight when the Washington Wizards face the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in a preseason game at Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C.
According to Coach Eddie Jordan, neither player is hurting from a specific injury. Rather, both veterans are feeling general soreness and might benefit from a night off. If Arenas and Jeffries do sit out, Jordan said he will see it as an opportunity to further evaluate other players on his roster.
"That's going to happen in the regular season, so guys are going to have to learn to replace starters' minutes," Jordan said. "It's going to be a good opportunity for some other guys."
Jordan will get his first good look at swingman Caron Butler, who missed Monday's preseason opener with groin soreness. Butler, who was impressive on both ends of the court during last week's training camp workouts in Richmond, practiced at full speed Tuesday and yesterday and is anxious to see his first game action as a Wizard.
"It was kind of hard missing that first game, seeing the guys out there getting started," Butler said. "I'm looking forward to getting out there and playing with the guys, getting myself ready for the season."
Jordan hasn't established a set plan for how long he will play his key veterans tonight. On Monday, starters Arenas, Jeffries, Jarvis Hayes, Brendan Haywood and Antawn Jamison each played at least 19 minutes and saw limited action during the second half.
Hayes, who missed the second half of last season and the team's playoff run with a fractured right knee cap, played 20 minutes Monday night and has experienced no serious swelling or pain so far.
Hayes, who is competing with Antonio Daniels for a starting guard position, has shown good agility defensively and been aggressive on the offensive end. He provided one of Monday night's highlights when he exploded past Cleveland's LeBron James on a drive from the top of the key, elevated and made a difficult layup in traffic.
When a player is coming off a serious knee injury, that kind of attacking move to the basket is a sign of health and confidence.
"He really looks good," Jordan said. "He's been going hard in practice, finishing hard, and sometimes it's the coaches who are wincing. I'm clenching thinking that something is going to happen, but he's been fine. Our training staff has done a really good job."
With Hayes and Daniels getting minutes at guard next to Arenas and with Jamison locked in as a starter at one forward spot, it would appear that Butler and Jeffries are competing to be the starter at the other forward position.
Jeffries, who is entering the final season of his contract, helped his cause with a solid performance Monday night. He drew James defensively and finished with eight points on 3-of-4 shooting, seven assists and five rebounds in 19 minutes. James scored 16 points in 25 minutes.
If Jordan is leaning toward starting Jeffries or Butler, he isn't tipping his hand. "You want to have a defensive presence and Jared gives us that. And yet you want a tough presence, physically tough, and Caron gives us that," Jordan said. "We know Antawn is going to start and Jarvis spreads the defense out, so how tough would it be for you to make a decision? It's tough but it's fun."
One area that will continue to be emphasized is overall team defense. On Monday, when both teams had their starters in the game, the Wizards forced seven first-quarter turnovers and converted them into 17 fast-break points.
However, the Wizards also allowed Cleveland to shoot 60 percent and score 30 first-quarter points. The Cavaliers also broke down the Wizards with dribble penetration that led to easy dunks, something that was far too common last season.
Veteran point guard Chucky Atkins, who had four points and two assists in 22 minutes Monday night, said improved communication will be the key to better defense.
"Once we get on the same page defensively, knowing what our philosophies are and what we are trying to accomplish in terms of team defense, I think our offense will start coming to us," Atkins said. "We're a deep team and we're a versatile team, so it's just a matter of guys learning how to talk on defense and play off each other a little better.
"In the preseason, the scores don't matter, but it is important for guys to start developing that trust in one another, especially on the defensive end. I was on a team last year with the Lakers where there was no trust. There was no 'If I get beat, there is going to be somebody there.' That's what we want here."
Wizards Notes: Tonight's game will be a homecoming of sorts for Jamison and Haywood, who starred at the University of North Carolina. Haywood is from nearby Greensboro and Jamison is from Charlotte.
The game will also be a homecoming for San Antonio all-star Tim Duncan, who starred at Wake Forest. It will be Duncan's first game at Wake Forest since he was a senior in 1997. However, there is no telling how long Duncan will play as the Spurs had a game last night in Columbia, S.C.