Wizards’ defense stressed as stars heal

Washington, Dallas have key players out

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DALLAS — It’s every team owner’s worst nightmare — looking toward the bench on game night and seeing more star power in street clothes than in uniform. It’s something the Washington Wizards and the Dallas Mavericks have in common.

The Wizards will face the Mavericks at American Airlines Center on Wednesday, the second night of a back-to-back for Washington after dropping a 92-76 decision to the Bobcats in Charlotte on Tuesday. It’s the Wizards‘ second back-to-back set in less than a week, after playing Milwaukee on Friday and at Indiana on Saturday.

For the Wizards, the walking wounded include John Wall (left patella strain) and Nene (plantar fasciitis). Despite reports of progress being made by both players, neither has a timetable to return. Wall initially was scheduled to miss the first month of the season. Nene’s return is anyone’s guess. Jordan Crawford also is playing at less than 100 percent with a sprained left ankle.

Dallas, meanwhile, is playing without 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, who is recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Shawn Marion, a four-time All-Star, is sidelined with a sprained left MCL.

As both teams make the best out of patchwork lineups until their stars return, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and Wizards coach Randy Wittman are sounding somewhat alike as they preach the tried-and-true staple of teams playing without their best players — defense.

“I might sound like a broken record — defense and rebounding,” Carlisle told reporters following Tuesday’s practice. “Defense and rebounding, defense and rebounding. Containing dribble penetration. Defense and rebounding.”

Mired in a three-game losing skid, the Mavericks hope to stop the streak against the struggling Wizards. Washington, meanwhile, hopes to take advantage of whatever edge it can find.

“We’ve got to personalize our effort, individually and as a team,” Carlisle said. “Right now, we’ve got to dig ourselves out of this losing streak. The way you do it is you start with a jump ball, and you’ve got to dig in on every possession. Simple as that.”

Carlisle’s words sounded eerily similar to those of Wittman’s as he watches his team struggle on offense, turn the ball over in crunch time and settle for jump shots instead of driving to the basket. Until the shots begin to fall, Wittman wants the players to focus on the things they can control. Again, it comes back to defense.

So far, at least that aspect of the Wizards‘ game is one area Wittman believes is working.

“We didn’t have a whole lot of that [defensive intensity] at this time last year,” Wittman said. “If we didn’t score points, we didn’t have a chance for our defense to win the game. That’s a credit to them to staying in it and being as active as they are defensively.”

Where the two teams differ is on the offensive side of the ball. The Mavericks are averaging 101.9 points (fourth in the NBA), and the Wizards are averaging just 88.0 (29th).

But as Wittman maintains, it’s not about the opponent, who’s suited up, or who’s on the bench. The Wizards must take control and set the pace in order to start seeing some wins.

“We can’t come out in a game no matter who we’re playing and see how [the opponent’s] going to come out and play,” Wittman said. “We’ve got to come out one way, and one way only.”

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