- The Washington Times - Friday, December 16, 2011

There’s always something to be gleaned from a preseason opener, something generally more important in the long term than the final score. For Wizards coach Flip Saunders, the time to evaluate his once-again revamped squad begins Friday night.

“I just want to see us playing hard,” Saunders said Friday before the morning shootaround. “I just want to see if we carry over some of the things we saw in training camp.

“Rebounding, defense, if we get out and run we try to take care of the ball, things like that. The thing you always worry about early in camp is that there’s usually high turnovers. That’s something we want to try and stress and try to eliminate.”

As Saunders also begins the process of evaluating his final roster, he’ll want to determine how his veterans fit in, how well his rookies are learning the system and who is most deserving of playing time in his lineup.

“With young players, they have to earn what they get,” Saunders said. “If they’re just given things without work, it sends the wrong message. We have to play our main guys, because we’ve got to get ready. We play in a week. But you have to find a way to play the young guys and get them some experience.

“I have a good balance of both young and old. Some of our veteran players are our vocal players that will find ways to keep our young guys accountable. Coaches can’t be there 24/7.”

The Wizards opponents tonight, the 76ers, are familiar foes, including former Wizards coach Doug Collins, who led Philadelphia to the playoffs last season. Collins coached the Wizards from 2001 to 2003 and left with a record of 74-90 over two seasons.

Like Saunders, Collins knows exactly what he hopes to see from his players in their preseason road opener.

“[I look for] conditioning, especially when guys have been away so long,” Collins said. “Execution, recognition; we don’t want to be sloppy. Early sometimes you try to go too fast and you turn the ball over. Two key areas for us is that we’re not fouling too much and we’re taking care of the ball.”

He also knows there’s very little time for his players to get in game shape.

“We’re building for Dec. 26,” Collins said. “We’ve got to get on a plane Christmas night and go to Portland for a five-game western road trip, so we’ve got to take every moment and be ready when we play Portland on that particular night.”

As far as Friday night’s game, Collins said there’s really one main key to stopping the Wizards — stopping John Wall.

“He [Wall] gave a lot of people trouble in this building. Two of our most heartbreaking losses were in this building last year,” the 76ers coach said. “Anytime you play him, you’d better get your defense back, you’d better build a ‘wall’ so he sees bodies, and you’ve got to keep him out of the paint.

“He’s a magnificent player. He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s quick, he’s fearless, he’s smart. He’s a terrific basketball player.”

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