In a nearly empty MCI Center locker room on Nov. 12 , after the Washington Wizards had put a whipping on the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, Wizards guard Antonio Daniels spoke of the team's ensuing three-game road trip in a cautionary tone.
"Winning at home is great, but in this league, going out on the road is a whole different thing," said Daniels, an eight-year veteran who has experienced the low of a 19-win season as a rookie with the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1997-98 to the high of the Seattle SuperSonics' 52 victories last season. "The crowd is different; you don't get the same calls; everything is tougher. That's when you find out where you are as a team."
Daniels obviously knows what he's talking about.
After home victories over Seattle and San Antonio on back-to-back nights, the Wizards lost three consecutive road games to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves and New Jersey Nets.
The Wizards (5-4) will try to bounce back tonight at MCI Center when they host Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets (6-5). Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan is hoping a home game will be just the shot in the arm his team needs before it goes back on the road for games this week at Orlando, Detroit and Charlotte.
Among the issues Jordan emphasized in practice Sunday and yesterday was better offensive execution. After shooting well over 50 percent and posting a combined 247 points in victories over Seattle and San Antonio, the Wizards hurt themselves with shaky shot selection, turnovers and poor execution on the ensuing trip.
"We're working on our patience and our discipline in practice," Jordan said. "To stay with what's good for us. When the heat is on, stay composed. Don't allow the officials to bother you. Don't allow the pressure defense to bother you. When a team goes up on us, know that we have ability to come back if we keep disciplined and organized offensively and if we keep trusting each other defensively and get stops."
Daniels, who is averaging 7.6 points and 3.9 assists per game while shooting 43.5 percent, is still working himself into the offensive flow. He has attempted fewer shots (46) than any starter other than forward Jared Jeffries, and while Jordan stresses ball movement and unselfishness, he has urged Daniels to be more aggressive.
There have been times when it appears that Daniels is reluctant to shoot because he wants to involve his teammates and keep the ball moving. That's a good trait in any guard that is on the floor with Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison, who have combined to attempt 330 of the team's 726 shots this season, and it's a major reason Daniels was so successful playing with Seattle's Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis last season.
However, there have been times when Daniels has passed up open shots that he's been able to make throughout his eight-season career. Not a catch-and-shoot guard, Daniels instead excels at taking his man off the dribble and either finishing at the rim or passing to an open teammate when he draws an extra defender. Daniels also possesses a nice midrange jump shot.
"It will come with time," said Daniels, who missed the loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 9 because of a sprained ankle. "With my comfort level with the offense, my teammates' comfort level with me and my coaching staff's comfort level with me and vice versa. I've only played eight games and it's [a] complicated offense to learn, but we're doing it. We're moving forward. We'll be okay."