- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

RICHMOND — For the second year in a row, the Washington Wizards’ point of emphasis is defense.

But this year, with the team coming off a 45-37 season capped by a playoff run, things are far different than they were last summer, when the team was trying to rebound from a 25-win season.

“No question about it, we have to be a better defensive team this season if we don’t want to stand still or lose ground,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said yesterday at training camp at Siegel Center on Virginia Commonwealth University’s campus.

While being the sixth-highest scoring team in the league last season (100.5), the Wizards were highly ineffective trying to prevent their opposition from scoring. They ranked 23rd in the league in opponents’ points per game (100.8), and they were tied for 23rd in opponents’ field-goal percentage (45.9).

Though the coaching staff preached defensive concepts throughout last season, the lesson finally might have been hammered home by Southeast Division champion Miami.

The Heat’s 4-0 sweep in the second round came too easily, as they won the last two games of the series without the injured Shaquille O’Neal.

Dwyane Wade was unstoppable against the Wizards. In the last game of the series Wade exposed all of the Wizards’ defensive faults, scorching them for 22 of his career playoff-high 42 points in the third quarter, when he went 7-for-7 from the field and 8-for-8 from the free-throw line.

“Being swept by Miami was kind of an eye-opener,” forward Antawn Jamison said. “It shouldn’t have been as easy for him to do what he did, especially without Shaq out there. But there he was, doing whatever he wanted to against us. That kind of stuff can’t happen.”

To that end, Jordan has been challenging his players to be better defenders. Before training camp even started Jordan began challenging his best player, All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas, to become the team leader defensively.

“If you look at all the best teams in the league there are defensive leaders,” Jordan said. “Look at Ben Wallace in Detroit or in San Antonio with Bruce Bowen. That is significant to me. You can go down the line and the best teams that make it to the final four have defensive leaders.

“That is what Gilbert has to do, he has to become a defensive leader for us,” Jordan continued. “He has to get [ticked] off when teams score against us. He has to do better at containing his man and triggering the defense for us. People talk about where his ceiling might be and there is going to be a ceiling to where he goes if he doesn’t step up his defense.”

Jamison said he knows Arenas can respond to the challenge.

“I know he can do it because I’ve seen him do it before in Golden State,” said Jamison, who also played with Arenas with the Warriors. “He was the best defender on our team when he wanted to be.”

But Jamison knows it is not just up to Arenas to galvanize the entire team. He believes, like Jordan, that everyone on the roster must and will be better.

“There is a sense of urgency because that is the weakest part of this team,” Jamison said. “It’s not heart, it’s not rebounding, and it’s not offensive play or dedication. But on the defensive end there was too much of everybody looking around and not moving. If Coach sees that in training camp we’re going to pay for it, I guarantee you that. And in order for us to not be an embarrassment we are going to have to get better at the defensive end.”

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