In the fourth quarter of the Washington Wizards' too-close-for-comfort, 87-79 home victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday night, Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan watched as the Magic kept a possession alive by out-scrapping his team to three offensive rebounds.
Jordan became so exasperated by this, he wheeled and looked up into the stands. Whether Jordan was making eye contact with a friend or family member, checking for the availability of Wes Unseld or seeking divine intervention was unclear.
However, Jordan's players have no doubts about what he will emphasize in practice as the Wizards (3-0) get ready for Wednesday's game at MCI Center against the Los Angeles Clippers (3-0).
"Rebounding," said forward Antawn Jamison, who snagged a team-high 13 rebounds to go along with 23 points Saturday night. "The only thing we need to improve on from the first three games is rebounding. If we box out and rebound, we'd be blowing people out instead of having to win these close games."
The Wizards have been outrebounded in each of their three victories by a combined margin of 159-125 and their opponents have dominated the offensive boards, where the Toronto Raptors (14 offensive rebounds), New York Knicks (29) and Magic (21) kept possessions alive and prevented the Wizards from getting into their fast break.
The Wizards led the NBA in offensive rebounds last season despite their opponents shooting 45.9 percent from the field -- 24th in the league. So far this season, Washington leads the league in opponent field goal percentage (34.8). So there are more rebounds to be had, but the Wizards have yet to take advantage.
"The good thing is that we're doing a better job with our rotations, we're helping each other out and making people take tougher shots than we did last year," said center Brendan Haywood. "Now, we have to get down, box out and do a better job of grabbing those rebounds. That's how you can really take a team out of the game."
Jamison leads the team in rebounding with an average of 9.7 per game and Haywood has been strong on both ends of the floor, averaging 9.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3 blocks per game.
The Wizards will also be helped by the return of 6-foot-7, 228-pound forward Caron Butler, who has averaged 5.3 rebounds during his career. Butler missed the New York and Orlando games with a thigh bruise and could return Wednesday night.
Guard Gilbert Arenas has vowed to do a better job on the glass. Opposing guards have done some of the rebounding damage -- Orlando's Steve Francis and DeShawn Stevenson combined to grab 16 rebounds Saturday night.
Opponents -- particularly the Knicks on Friday night -- have risked giving up transition baskets by sending as many as four players to the offensive glass.
"We were a great rebounding team last year so teams are really making it a point to attack the boards on us," said Arenas, who has 13 rebounds in three games. "As guards, we're going to have to do a better job of boxing our man out and then getting back there and helping out. That's how we can get out running and get into our offense."
Jordan has some help off the bench in veteran post player Michael Ruffin, who has 16 rebounds and 10 points in 54 minutes this season. Ruffin kept several Washington possessions alive with offensive rebounds against the Knicks and Magic and provided a bit of playoff physicality when he collared Francis as he prepared to take off for a dunk in the fourth quarter Saturday night.
"There's no question that he's a special player for us," Jordan said. "I can play him at forward or center and he switches out on guards on pick-and-rolls. I can play him after he sits there for three quarters and he does a great job. I can play him when I feel we need a more physical presence tonight, more defense. He does everything for us. He's important for us."