- The Washington Times - Monday, November 7, 2005

Antawn Jamison likes the idea of stopping the opposition rather than always trying to outrun them.

The Washington Wizards are off to a 3-0 start almost entirely on the strength of their defensive play — a big departure for a team that last season was content to just outscore their opponents.

That approach worked to a degree — the Wizards won 45 games and reached the playoffs — but only to a degree.

“Last year we were up and down the court and no defense,” Jamison said Saturday after the Wizards’ 87-79 stifling of the Orlando Magic in their home opener. “It’s good to watch, but there were a lot of opportunities that we let slip away last year. But if we have to play 70, 80 games like tonight where the defense takes over, I’d rather have that.

“It’s better to play this way than to have to rely on your offense to dig you out.”

The Wizards’ style through three games looks nothing like that of last season, when the team scored an average of 100.5 points and allowed 100.8.

But through three wins — the most they’ve posted at the start of a season since they went 4-0 in 1978-79 — the Wizards have won by playing tough defense.

The big men, particularly center Brendan Haywood, challenge anyone who drives to the basket. On the perimeter, the Wizards have adjusted to the loss of Larry Hughes, who last season was effective at swiping anything in the passing lanes. Now, the Wizards clearly try harder to get close to their opponents’ chests and fight harder to get around screens to deny the open jumper or easy pass inside.

The results have been good: The Toronto Raptors shot just 39.8 percent from the floor in the season opener, the best performance by a Wizards opponent thus far. The Wizards won 99-96, but it wouldn’t have been that close if the Wizards had shot a better percentage from the free-throw line (13 of 24).

The 96 points scored by the Raptors was the most yet by a Wizards foe. The Wizards held the Raptors, New York Knicks and the Magic to a combined average of just 83.3 points. The combined shooting percentage of those three opponents is 34.8 percent, a full 10 percentage points below that of the Wizards, who are averaging 90.7 points.

“It is a very good 3-0 for us, and what has been consistent for us has been our defense,” coach Eddie Jordan said. “Even though we haven’t shot well and have been out-rebounded, especially on the offensive glass, our defense has been fighting it out.”

Jordan is very happy about the way his team has played defense so far. Still, it is early in the season — too early to label the Wizards a defensive juggernaut.

“The main thing is we’ve got to stay consistent with out effort, which is something we’ve been preaching since the preseason,” Jordan said. “The best thing is that right now they are making the commitment to play defense.”

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