One of the Washington Wizards' most impressive traits of last season was their ability to snap back from a loss and channel their energy into the next game.
En route to posting a 45-37 record, the Wizards were particularly consistent at home, where they lost consecutive games only two times all season.
Coach Eddie Jordan is hoping to see the same kind of professional approach in this year's squad (3-1), which dropped its first game Wednesday night to the Los Angeles Clippers at MCI Center.
The Wizards hit the practice court yesterday preparing for back-to-back home games against the Seattle SuperSonics (tonight) and the defending world champion San Antonio Spurs (tomorrow night) with the lessons of Wednesday's 102-97 loss still fresh in their minds.
After watching his team break down on both ends of the floor in crucial situations during the fourth quarter Wednesday night, Jordan emphasized better communication on defense while noting that one loss was not the end of the world.
"I told them: 'We're still a good team,' " Jordan said. "If we take care of business this weekend we're still a special team in the NBA so far with the one loss."
With guard Antonio Daniels returning to the lineup to face his former Seattle teammates tonight, the Wizards will have all of their key players available for the first time since the season opening victory at Toronto.
Forward Caron Butler was effective Wednesday night after missing games against the New York Knicks and Orlando Magic with a left thigh bruise. Butler came off the bench to score 19 points on 5-of-10 shooting and made some big plays in the fourth quarter when he scored eight points.
A Butler fadeaway baseline jumper with a minute remaining put the Wizards up by a point and appeared to swing momentum in Washington's direction, but a failure to secure an offensive rebound and a breakdown in the half-court defense allowed the Clippers to get away with a win.
The Clippers shot 50 percent from the field, becoming the first Washington opponent to shoot better than 40 percent. The Clippers also became the first Washington opponent to break the 100 point mark. Jordan said he was not fooled by his team's impressive defensive statistics during the 3-0 start, and a few plays from Wednesday's loss illustrated why.
On one of them, guard Gilbert Arenas went for a steal on a Los Angeles inbounds play but missed. The gamble allowed Sam Cassell to draw in the defense before finding a wide open Corey Maggette for a jump shot that put the Clippers up by a point.
"We dodged two or three bullets last night coming down the stretch with a gamble here or a gamble there or someone didn't box out, yet we got the rebound," Jordan said. "We've been dodging bullets for three games and it finally caught up to us. We had a lead. We didn't need to gamble. You have to play good, solid defense."
The Wizards could be tested this weekend. Seattle (1-3) is coming off back-to-back ugly losses at Memphis and at Cleveland but still has an all-star in Ray Allen who is capable of taking over a game down the stretch, while San Antonio (4-1) is textbook in its offensive execution during tight games and has one of the league's best players in forward Tim Duncan.
Daniels, who averaged six points and 4.7 assists during the first three games, has played for Seattle and San Antonio and understands their personnel.
"It will be a real defensive challenge for us because they both have a lot of offensive weapons, guys who can shoot the ball and make plays," Daniels said. "We have to go out and defend that for four full quarters.
"You're going to make and miss shots during the course of a game, but one thing that can't change is your defensive intensity."