Directing his players at Tuesday’s practice session - the first in more than a month with all his core players healthy - coach Flip Saunders had to feel relieved.
Antawn Jamison, one of the cornerstones for the Washington Wizards, was back for the second straight day. Randy Foye also was back in his role as the key rotation player after missing the past two games with a sprained ankle.
Finally, Saunders & Co. were able to resume building on the foundation they laid during training camp and the first week of the preseason.
“We’re not a team that you would say has lost six games in a row if you’re watching,” Saunders said. “I think it’s good to have Antawn back in the fold. … Now you can revert to what you’re doing and guys can go back to their natural roles that were originally planned for them.”
Saunders’ reconstituted team will face a tough test right away: LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who visit Verizon Center on Wednesday.
“It will take a little while to blend together,” Saunders said. “But I think the guys are looking forward to playing a good team with the best player in the league, and it’s always a very exciting game when these two teams meet.”
When they reported for training camp the final week of September, the Wizards were hoping to avoid their traditional slow start to the season. They opened 1-10 last season, 0-5 the season before that and 5-9 in 2006-07.
But injuries to Jamison, Foye and shooting guard Mike Miller combined with a tough early schedule - the preseason included six straight road games, and the opening stretch of the regular season included seven opponents that made the playoffs last season - produced a 2-7 start.
Given those circumstances, Saunders said, it’s no wonder his team has struggled.
“You can look at teams as far as their schedule and predict what kind of month they’re going to have,” Saunders said. “The way our schedule is here is that there are a lot of things in our building and we’re on the road a lot or coming here on the back of back-to-backs. Because we played only one home game in preseason and the rest were on the road, I think that catches up to us a little bit. You can’t worry about it now. Because we’ve been true to form as far as what’s in the past. You can only worry about what we have going forward.”
The players are trying to take that advice and learn a few lessons from the seven losses - like eliminating the mistakes that have hurt them during the opening stretch.
“I want to learn from them,” Foye said. “I think as a team, you want to learn from them and don’t let this happen again. We’re trying to put that behind us, but we definitely don’t want to forget about it because later on in the season, if you lose a couple, you want to bounce back real quick because you know where it can go.”
The addition of Jamison, who last season averaged 22.2 points and 8.9 rebounds a game, should help spark an offense that ranks 24th in the league. And Saunders said the intangibles the Wizards’ vocal leader brings also will go a long way toward turning things around.
Jamison is ready for the task.