- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 12, 2002

How's this for a basketball team's identity:

Play aggressively while staying in the concept and structure of the coaches' offense and incorporating the talents of all players. Start fast from the opening tip and keep the pressure on.

In leading the team in scoring in every contest this season, those are just some of the trademarks star shooting guard Jerry Stackhouse has brought to the Washington Wizards in his first seven games. His impact has often been felt the most in the early stages of games, but he also authored the play that has highlighted the Wizards' 4-3 start, his game-winning dunk with less than a second left against the Los Angeles Lakers Friday night.

Stackhouse's outstanding first-quarter performances, in victories and losses, have proved critical to the Wizards entering tonight's game against Seattle (5-2) at MCI Center. Washington has shot poorly early in a few games but it's not because of Stackhouse, who has poured in better than nine points per first quarter and led the team in first-quarter scoring in each of its first seven contests.

"I wanted to come in and establish this team has to have an identity, and I wanted to push my identity as part of this team," Stackhouse said after the Wizards defeated Cleveland Saturday. "And that's going out, being aggressive, attacking and playing hard. From that, you get respect across the board."

Indeed for averaging 29.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists in leading the Wizards to a 3-1 record last week, Stackhouse yesterday was named Eastern Conference player of the week, beating out the player he was traded for, the Pistons' Richard Hamilton, among others.

Stackhouse has proved to be everything the Wizards could have hoped for and more after acquiring him in the offseason. He's averaging 25.7 points, good for sixth in the league, and has assumed the role of the team's unquestioned offensive sparkplug while effectively involving his teammates.

Stackhouse's quick starts have a rippling effect. For one, he gets the Wizards off to a competitive start and softens up the opponent for when sixth man Michael Jordan and other reserves enter the game later in the first half. By making himself a threat, Stackhouse also takes pressure off Jordan when the two are on the court. That relationship can also work the other way, as it did Friday night when Jordan lured two defenders away from the basket to allow Stackhouse a clear path to the basket for a game-winning dunk.

Stackhouse showed resiliency in the wake of a loss last week at Minnesota. He shot 0-for-5 down the stretch against the Timberwolves as the Wizards struggled mightily toward a franchise-worst shooting night 2-for-22 in the fourth quarter. The next night, Stackhouse pumped in 17 first-quarter points against Cleveland and finished with a season-high 35 in leading the Wizards to an easy victory.

"More than the points, he brings an attitude of toughness, of when you need him really giving you those [scoring] spurts," Wizards coach Doug Collins said. "We lose the tough game in Minnesota, he comes out and gives us 17 in the first quarter against Cleveland. Against the Lakers, he made some critical plays early that really jump-started our team and our crowd. The other night I thought we were very sluggish in Cleveland and he had 18 in the first half to really give us a chance to win that game.

"He gives us an attacking player that we can play off of."

Stackhouse loves to get to the free-throw line, and it's pretty clear why: He's shooting a blistering 94.1 percent, good for sixth in the league. He leads the league in free throws made, canning a whopping 13 more than the next-highest total (Kobe Bryant, 51). Stackhouse always has been an excellent free-throw shooter, making better than 80 percent of his attempts over his eight-year career entering this season, but he's maximizing his opportunities this season.

While Collins is taking his time introducing different phases of the offense, and the Wizards' eight new players are still getting adjusted to playing with each other, Stackhouse has taken the reins of the offense and successfully guided the team. He's also showing his ability to distribute he had 10 assists against Boston and is averaging 4.3 for the season.

"It's still early in the season," said Stackhouse, clearly showing the benefits of experience on a division-winning team last season in Detroit. "I'm thinking more about May than what's going on now in November."

Note Jordan said yesterday he had no swelling in his knees and felt no ill effects of the Wizards' stretch of four games in five nights last week. "I could get up and walk to the bathroom without limping," Jordan said jokingly. In addition to his structured preseason workout regimen and using orthotics in his sneakers, Jordan has utilized a different lower-body workout and more stretching to stay injury-free.

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