- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2008

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. | After a 117-109 loss to the Detroit Pistons on Saturday night, the Washington Wizards had plenty of reasons to be frustrated as they readied for their flight home.

There was the 49-24 discrepancy in rebounds, the 28-9 deficit on second-chance points and the big shots by Walter Herrmann off the Detroit bench late in the loss.

But coach Eddie Jordan and his players found reason for encouragement, too.

All-Stars Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler dramatically improved on their combined 27-point effort during the season-opening loss to New Jersey. Jamison had 24 points and eight rebounds; Butler added 21 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals.

Equally important, the Wizards learned which of their reserves can be counted on to round out the rotation and provide a much-needed spark when the starters struggle. If not for guards Nick Young (23 points) and Juan Dixon (nine points and three assists) and forward/center Darius Songaila (eight points and four assists), Detroit might have blown the Wizards out.

Washington sputtered for the better part of the first half until that trio entered the game and sparked a 16-0 run. Young scored nine second-quarter points, and Dixon scored six, including the last-second shot that put Washington ahead 52-51 at halftime. Songaila handed out three assists.

In the second half, with Washington struggling again, Jordan went back to that trio and again got positive results. At 6-foot-9, Songaila gave up height at center but compensated with savvy play that created opportunities for his teammates and frustrated opponents on the defensive end. Neither Dixon nor Young is a point guard, but both shared ball-handling duties, and their scoring ability proved crucial. Both were glad to oblige.

“We just wanted to be aggressive,” Dixon said. “I’ve been known as a scorer my whole life, and when I get the opportunity to score the ball, I’m going to go out there and be aggressive. … We were able to give some energy with our shots in the second quarter.”

Jordan praised the efforts of Dixon, Young and Songaila; since he played all three in key moments of the second and fourth quarters, it’s evident they have the coach’s confidence.

“You remember who did it,” Jordan said. “It’s not as much what you do but who did it - and I like the guys that did the things that they were supposed to do.”

Young and Dixon said the key to building on their performances is simple: Keep working and improvement will come.

“This thing’s coming along,” Butler said. “The roles are different. Nick is a lot different than last year. Now it’s coming in and being aggressive all the time and being familiar with playing with Antawn and myself. Now a lot of things are opening up, and you can see the outcome was him having a monster game. … He’s got star written all over him.”

Meanwhile, Jordan issued a stern warning to fourth-year forward Andray Blatche, who played only four minutes and allowed former Wizards forward Kwame Brown to score eight points.

In the second quarter, Jordan pulled Blatche, who never returned to the game.

“We give guys a chance, and the opportunity is there for them,” Jordan said. “When you give great effort, you get the benefit of the doubt. When the effort isn’t there - when there isn’t sincere effort - you’re not going to play.”