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With Wizards, the defense rests

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Wizards have taken up residence in a fool's paradise.

Their capacity to outscore opponents is masking their pronounced anemia in the three-second lane.

The failures of the Wizards around the basket are sometimes stunning, as against the Jazz.

They allowed the Jazz too many layups from a halfcourt set and too many second-chance opportunities, as they so often do.

The Wizards have fashioned a 21-16 record largely because of a deluge of points on offense. They don't stop opponents; they try to outlast them.

Whenever the Wizards face an effective low-post player, you can be certain the person is going to take indecent liberties against them, whether Carlos Boozer or Elton Brand.

Gilbert Arenas made things right against the Jazz with yet another last-second shot. His 51-point gem was about the only thing right with the contest.

The box score suggested it should have been a loss for the home team. The Jazz pushed around the Wizards under the basket in securing 17 rebounds on offense and winning the rebound challenge by seven.

The Jazz also outscored the Wizards 48-36 in the three-second lane.

The Wizards won the game because of Arenas and his seven 3-pointers. He was compelling, of course. But a team cannot thrive on that long-term. A team certainly cannot depend on that kind of perimeter shooting on the road.

An additional reason teams struggle on the road -- besides the travel, hostile crowd and referees' favoritism toward the home team -- is the unfamiliar shooting background. That truism is especially onerous on a perimeter-oriented team like the Wizards.

And that in part explains their duality: world-beaters at home and all too often an NBDL outfit on the road.

The Wizards defeated the Jazz with only three players scoring in double-figures and a bench that has only one consistent performer in Antonio Daniels, who apparently put his jump shot in storage in the offseason.

Andray Blatche makes a nice play, only to commit a series of boneheaded plays in succession, including three in one sequence against the Jazz.

After being unable to complete a simple entry pass to the Poet because of poor spacing, Blatche next found himself in possession of the ball with an open floor in front of him.

He proceeded to make three errors on one play. His first was to accelerate at a pace his skill level could not manage. His second was to travel with the ball, which the referee missed. He then barreled into a defender to incur a player-control foul.

It was reminiscent of Jared Jeffries' meltdown in the final seconds in Chicago last April, when Jeffries had the temerity to ignore a streaking Daniels on the right side of the floor.

This raises to three the number of times the Wizards have gone into a season thinking they have a deep bench, only to discover that Jarvis Hayes is either sidelined with an injury or shooting 38.7 percent.

The ineptness of the bench prompts Eddie Jordan to hold his breath as he goes about resting his starters at various junctures in the second quarter.

No one expects the Wizards to morph into a pugnacious bunch. They have only four players with that sort of temperament: Caron Butler, the Poet, DeShawn Stevenson and Michael Ruffin.

Yet the Wizards must learn to pay greater attention to the details: the box-outs, challenging more shots around the basket, not allowing a ball to remain free because each teammate thought the other was going to grab it and knocking opponents off their cuts to the basket.

None of this is about a lack of effort or energy on the part of the Wizards.

They play hard on both ends of the floor. They just don't play with the same sense of purpose on both ends.

That is because in basketball there is no greater measure of a player than a field goal.

You could see that from Brendan Haywood's 10 rebounds against the Jazz.

Six came on the offensive end and led to three putbacks and six of his 10 points.