- The Washington Times - Monday, December 24, 2001

The Washington Wizards have turned their season around in just three short weeks and the reason is quite simple:
They are shutting down other teams.
"It's almost like we're a different team defensively," guard Hubert Davis said. "Everybody trusts each guy to step in and help out. I really can't explain it."
During the eight-game losing streak that prompted Michael Jordan to say that the Wizards "stink," they were particularly foul at the defensive end. In six of those games the Wizards gave up at least 100 points, and their opponents averaged a gaudy 103.1 points.
A stark contrast to the aggressive, helping defense the Wizards play these days. During this nine-game winning streak, which matches the longest in franchise history, no team has scored more than 95 points, and the Wizards are holding opponents to an average of just 82.4.
"We're playing harder," Jordan said. "When you're playing hard you get rewarded. That's one of the things that I kept trying to say last year when we were probably more talented than we are this year. But coming down from the front office to show them and to be a part of it, I think they're starting to understand it and I'm very happy with the way they have received it."
But there's more to it than just defense. Quietly, some players are stepping up at the offensive end as well.
This is true of starting center Jahidi White. Because at 6-foot-9 he is undersized coupled with the fact that he is easily one of the most physical players in the league White has earned, fairly or not, a reputation as a fouler. As a result, White has never been able to play with the energy the Wizards like him to play with for fear of getting into foul trouble.
But the emergence of Brendan Haywood as a rookie-of-the-year candidate as White's backup has permitted White to be more assertive, particularly on offense, where White has made 57.1 percent (24 of 42) of his shots during the streak.
With reigning player of the week Richard Hamilton sidelined for an undetermined amount of time with a pulled right groin (an X-ray and MRI will be done today), Davis has stepped in and filled the void. In his first start for Hamilton in the team's win at New York on Saturday, a game in which the Wizards rallied from 10 points down in the fourth quarter, Davis scored 14 points. This included going 4-for-7 from behind the 3-point line.
The night before in Orlando, when Hamilton suffered the injury and played just eight minutes, Davis pumped in 19 points to help lead another come-from-behind win. And in the game before that against Atlanta, Davis handed out a season-high nine assists.
Backup point guard Tyronn Lue, who played sparingly in his first stop in Los Angeles and is used to playing in the triangle offense, has also become very effective as he's started to familiarize himself with coach Doug Collins' offense. A spotty jump-shooter at best early on, Lue has become much more aggressive at the offensive end and his shots are starting to fall. Before the team got hot, Lue's season high had been 11 points in the Wizards' worst loss of the season, by 22 points, to Detroit on Nov.4. Three times during the winning streak Lue has scored 11 or more points.
"This is our job to step up, or at least try to," Davis said.
They have won ugly, making just 37.5 percent of their shots against the Knicks. They have come from behind on the road often, rallying from a 19-point deficit to win at Toronto. And they have romped, thrashing Atlanta by 27 points earlier in the week.
And they have even overcome injuries, losing starters Christian Laettner (broken leg), Hamilton and key reserve Courtney Alexander (left ankle) all during the winning streak. Laettner will be out at least three more weeks, and the Wizards will know more about Hamilton today after a battery of tests. If Hamilton's injury is more serious than they anticipate he's listed as day-to-day Alexander could be activated as soon as this week.
The spate of injuries has put a strain on the Wizards, and in recent years this might have been the ruination of their season. And as recently as two weeks ago, the season seemed headed in that direction.
Surprisingly, the players and Collins point to the team's 88-84 overtime victory over the Celtics the one that ended the eight-game slide as the moment that hatched the team's newfound confidence. In that game, the Wizards blew a 76-61 lead in the final 6:37, needing a Laettner jumper and two clutch Hamilton free throws in the final 8.6 seconds to preserve the win.
"At the beginning of the season it seemed like we were doing everything right to lose," Davis said. "After that win, I don't know. I've said losing is contagious and so is winning. From that point against Boston we've just had some type of confidence where we've felt really good on the court. We've been able to execute. We've been making plays to win rather than lose now."

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