- The Washington Times - Friday, November 4, 2005

TORONTO — No one is more aware of the gradual transformation the Washington Wizards must make this season than coach Eddie Jordan.

Jordan has been raising the red flag whenever one of his players says the team is starting to gel and become the cohesive unit — a group no longer dependent on three players — he wants.

However, even the patient Jordan got a bit of a scare in the early moments of Washington’s 99-96 season-opening victory against Toronto on Wednesday night when the Wizards fell behind by seven points and didn’t look anything like he had hoped coming out of the gate.

“The first six minutes I thought were atrocious,” Jordan said yesterday following practice at Air Canada Centre. “Everything we emphasized in camp wasn’t there. The denials weren’t there, the rebounding wasn’t there, the help defense wasn’t there. But after the first six minutes, we really settled down and got after it a little bit. And in the fourth quarter, when it was winning time, I was pleased with the effort.”

As the Wizards prepared to face New York tonight in the Knicks’ Madison Square Garden debut under coach Larry Brown, Jordan seemed to be particularly happy with his second unit and — much to his delight — a number of players not named Gilbert Arenas or Antawn Jamison.

Yes, Jamison put up gaudy numbers (29 points, nine rebounds) and hit what proved to be the biggest shot of the night. And Arenas played a balanced game (21 points, seven assists). But those were the type of numbers they put up on the way to being first-time All-Stars last season.

But Jordan’s eyebrows arched and a smile spread across his face at the mention of complementary players like Brendan Haywood (10 points, 14 rebounds), Jarvis Hayes (17 points, three rebounds, three assists) and Caron Butler (11 points, seven rebounds and five assists).

“Brendan was huge for us,” said Jordan, who before the season suggested Haywood could be an All-Star. “He dominated play in the paint for us. He stepped away from the basket and defended Chris Bosh and he still made an impact on the offensive end.”

Hayes and Butler, both of whom were vying for starting jobs, were part of a bench effort responsible for 33 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists.

“It’s always important that we have other players who can take the pressure off me and Antawn,” Arenas said. “They did a good job. Jarvis was huge off the bench. Brendan was spectacular. He did a great job. Caron came in and gave us some buckets.”

Hayes, who missed six preseason games with a sore right knee, felt fine the day after the game — which is always a good sign. And he had another reason to feel good.

“It’s the first time we had a full deck, the first time we were all healthy and the early returns were pretty good,” he said. “It shows that we are much deeper than we were last year.”

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