They are Washington's resident NBA all-stars, so it should come as no surprise that guard Gilbert Arenas and forward Antawn Jamison's production mirrors the Wizards' early-season fortunes.
In Washington's five victories, Arenas and Jamison shot 52.4 percent and combined to average 52.3 points. In two losses, the duo shot 31.3 percent and combined to average 37 points. Cleveland built its defense around stopping those two players during Washington's 114-99 loss on Tuesday, and it wouldn't shock Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan if the Timberwolves use that same strategy Thursday night.
"That's why we talked during pregame about having a balanced attack," Jordan said. "After Gilbert's weekend in D.C. and Antawn scoring the basketball the way he has, we know they are going to start loading up on Gil and taking some things away from him and also take some things away from Antawn. We need our other guys to look at their scoring opportunities and look to take advantage, not sit there thinking that Gil is going to get his 40 and Antawn is going to get his 30. When you have two guys like that, you can look to them to bail you out and I don't want us to fall into that mind-set."
The Wizards have been getting strong performances from forward Caron Butler, who is third on the team in scoring at 17 points per game while shooting 47.5 percent. Arenas, Jamison and Butler are the highest-scoring trio in the NBA, and the team is also getting some punch off the bench from guard Jarvis Hayes (9.9 points per game, 45.3 percent shooting).
Still, there will be nights when the team needs more out of players such as Jared Jeffries, Brendan Haywood, Antonio Daniels, Chucky Atkins and Etan Thomas.
From the opening tip Tuesday night, Cleveland sent double teams at Arenas and did everything it could to keep him out of the key. Arenas, who scored 75 points in weekend home wins over the Seattle and San Antonio, struggled early and never found a groove on his way to finishing with 18 points on 4-of-17 shooting.
But the Wizards had success early because Arenas effectively moved the ball to open teammates. On one such play, Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas left Haywood to double-team Arenas at the top of the key -- a common tactic when Arenas attempts to turn the corner on pick-and-rolls -- and Arenas made him pay by slicing a bounce pass to Haywood, who rolled to the basket and dunked.
The problems came in the second quarter when Cleveland turned a 26-21 deficit into a 37-29 lead. The Wizards stopped attacking the basket and began shooting -- and missing -- jump shots. Washington missed nine consecutive field goal attempts and two free throws during the Cleveland run. The missed shots led to long rebounds, which in turn allowed LeBron James and the Cavaliers to get rolling.
Arenas admitted to settling for too many jumpers just three nights after repeatedly and successfully attacking the heart of San Antonio's defense with strong drives to the basket.
"They put a lot of attention on Gilbert," Jamison said. "They didn't want him to penetrate and get going. When they do that, we have to take advantage of it. We did some of that. Caron did a good job as far as penetrating and trying to find some people, but there were just certain points when we had to be smart with the ball as far as taking a jump shot or penetrating again. When we're playing our game, we're doing a good job of moving without the ball making teams play defense, cutting and finding the open" man.
Daniels, who scored nine points on 3-of-4 shooting with four assists Tuesday, emphasized that offensive flow can't come at the expense of effort on the other end. After all, the Wizards scored a healthy 99 points Tuesday yet lost because Cleveland -- as the Los Angeles Clippers did in their victory over the Wizards -- was able to shoot a high percentage and execute its offense down the stretch.
"We didn't execute the way we're capable of, we didn't play defense the way we're capable of," Daniels said. "When that happens, you lose basketball games, especially on the road. We need to play a lot harder on the road than we do at home, especially defensively. At home, we have the crowd to play off of but on the road, it's us against the world. It's a great position to be in, but we need to meet the challenge."
Wizards Notes: Minnesota (3-4) remains very much about perennial all-star Kevin Garnett and not much else. Swingman Wally Szczerbiak thinks of himself as an all-star and is paid like one (he's making $10 million this season) but is averaging 13.7 points and shooting 39.1 percent. Minnesota is also breaking in a new coach, Dwane Casey, and a new point guard, Marko Jaric, who arrived from the Clippers in a trade for Sam Cassell. The Wizards split a pair of meetings with Minnesota last season, with each team winning at home.