Wizards 85, Pacers 77
Now it counts.
The Washington Wizards capped their eight-game preseason schedule with an 85-77 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Friday night at Conseco Fieldhouse and now can turn their attention to Wednesday's regular season opener at Toronto.
With all-stars Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison back on the court after missing games with eye and shoulder injuries, respectively, and key newcomers Antonio Daniels, Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins all in uniform, the Wizards strongly resembled the team that will take the floor against the Raptors.
"We have a veteran team and they all know when the bright lights come on," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "I've seen growth throughout the preseason. I see us talking more on defense, communicating a little better. We'll be ready to go."
Still, with regulars Jarvis Hayes (knee) and Etan Thomas (knee) out of the lineup Friday night, Jordan went the entire preseason without seeing all of his key players in uniform at the same time. Atkins, forward Michael Ruffin and center Brendan Haywood were the only players to participate in all eight preseason games.
For the fourth time in eight games, Jordan went with a starting lineup of Arenas and Daniels in the back court, Jamison and Jared Jeffries at forward and Haywood at center. Jordan indicated that this unit likely will start in Toronto and could be what he goes with during the early part of the season.
However, it was Butler who took over Friday night's game down the stretch, coming off the bench to score 10 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter. Butler, who has excelled at small forward after splitting time between that position and shooting guard with the Lakers last season, connected on 10 of 15 shots, grabbed six rebounds and contributed three assists in 34 minutes.
During a three-minute stretch in the fourth quarter, Butler unveiled his full arsenal, hitting a long baseline jumper, finishing a drive with a tight spin move and pretty finger roll and knocking down two pull-up jumpers to turn a 73-71 Washington lead into an 81-73 advantage.
Throughout the preseason, one of the Wizards' biggest question marks was how they would replace Larry Hughes, who went to the Cavaliers in the offseason. It would appear that Butler, Atkins and Daniels, who helped turn Friday night's game with some scrappy defense in the third quarter, might be the answer.
"We have more interchangeable parts than we did last year," said Arenas, who scored 16 points and totaled six assists in 33 minutes. "We just have to get all of these interchangeable parts playing together and cooperating with each other. I've been out for a while. Caron missed a couple of games, Antonio missed some games as well as Jarvis, so we just have to get everyone back in the mix and we'll be fine."
The task for Jordan will be juggling each player's role and creating the kind of chemistry that appeared to take hold with last season's team right out of the gate. There were times when Juan Dixon and Kwame Brown bucked for more minutes but for the most part, players bought into their roles and the team flourished.
Now the dynamics have changed.
Will Butler, who has been a starter throughout his three-season career and could be entering a contract year, be happy in the role of sixth man? How long will it take for Arenas and Daniels to blend their games? When Hayes gets back, how will Jordan parcel out minutes within a veteran group of talented guards?
"It's not going to be easy," Jordan said. "We're going to have to have some patience with it. The ingredients are good but we have to mix it up just right."
Wizards Notes: Forward Awvee Storey (hamstring) missed his second straight game with hamstring soreness. The team will meet to go over film today and will take Sunday off before hitting the court for consecutive practices to get ready for Wednesday's opener.
"I want them to freshen their legs up a little bit," Jordan said. "I want everyone feeling good going into the first game."
Forward Samaki Walker, who played in 14 games with the Wizards last season before getting released, made Indiana's 15-man roster. Swingman Damone Brown, who also played in 14 games with the Wizards last season, was released by Indiana on Friday.
Indiana guard Sarunas Jasikevicius, who left Maryland in 1998, capped an impressive preseason with seven points and five assists in 20 minutes. Jasikevicius, who has played in the Euroleague since leaving College Park, averaged 8.5 points and 3.0 assists in eight preseason games and is expected to be a part of Indiana's rotation. . . . The Wizards finished the preseason 3-5, same as last preseason.