- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 2, 2002

The opener brought a shooting performance with enough bricks to make a mason work overtime. Then came a Halloween night blowout that no doubt made Red Auerbach shudder in horror.
The Washington Wizards turned in two wildly different performances on consecutive nights to start the regular season: They nearly posted a franchise record-low point total in losing to Toronto (74-68), then handed the Boston Celtics their worst loss ever (114-69).
The obvious question: Which outing is indicative of the real Wizards?
"I don't know if we're going to go out and score 114 points every night, but I think we're definitely closer to [Thursday] night," said Jared Jeffries, who had 12 points against the Celtics. "I think our defense has been solid both games. Our offense, shots didn't quite fall [the first night] but all it takes is a couple shots to fall to get your confidence going, and last night was a result of that."
Offensively, the answer didn't involve adding plays or sets to the Wizards' existing schemes but using more basic sets and relying more on rebounding and running out to create transition opportunities. There were other factors: The Wizards were more patient, working for better shots than they did Wednesday night while also attacking the basket more and settling for jump shots less.
"I think our guys want to play like we played [Thursday] night," coach Doug Collins said. "That's the attacking style we have to play. We cannot be a halfcourt team. That will not be our strength."
Yesterday Collins showed the team 40 minutes of videotape from Thursday's game to convey how enjoyable the game was to watch from a fan's and coach's perspective. As impressively as the Wizards played in trouncing the Celtics, they'll have to deliver a similar all-around performance tonight, when the defending Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Nets visit MCI Center.
Sure, there will be 79 more games on the schedule, but for the Wizards a team that believes it can make a run deep into the NBA playoffs this game will provide a reasonable indicator as to where they stand against the perceived best team in their conference.
The Wizards need to show that they're better against New Jersey than last season, when they lost three of four games to the Nets by an average of 22.7 points, including one 44-point blowout.
"We get a chance to find out where we are with them," Collins said. "We've got a little bigger point guard this year, Larry Hughes, so hopefully Jason Kidd won't be able to run us down in the post too much. We've got Jerry Stackhouse, who gives us another attacking weapon on the floor. Kwame's better.
"We're a better team than we were last year. Now we will see how much we've closed the distance with New Jersey. Even though it's early, it will be a great test."
The Nets (1-0), 52-30 a year ago, improved themselves in the offseason by trading for Dikembe Mutombo and signing forward Rodney Rogers. Jason Kidd, nearly the league's MVP last season, still directs the Nets offense and is one of the most dangerous all-around players in the league.
However, given the spectacular showing 20-year-old Kwame Brown made Thursday night with 20 points, six blocks and five rebounds in his second consecutive game with five or more blocks, the most-watched matchup will feature Brown and the Wizards' other big men against Mutombo, Kenyon Martin and the Nets' frontcourt.
Collins started Brendan Haywood at center Thursday to give the Wizards' more of a presence in the middle. Haywood played well, pulling down 11 rebounds and staying active defensively, but it was Brown and Jeffries who really made an impact, especially in the open court.
The athleticism of Brown and Jeffries proved too much for the Celtics' big men as Tony Battie, Eric Williams and Vin Baker could not keep Brown from swatting their shots away nor Jeffries from running the floor and finishing plays in transition.
"When your big men can run, it puts pressure on the other team's big men to get back and conditioning becomes a factor," Collins said. "Jared played two positions, and Kwame did too. And they both kept the pressure up.
"Jared and Kwame both are doing a great job of getting up the floor defensively and helping our point guards, which starts our defense. All those things that they bring is an added plus for us."
Said Jeffries: "Me and Kwame both are athletic, run the floor well and are long. Just being active gives us an advantage over a lot of forwards."
But that lot of forwards don't include those from the Nets. Martin stands as one of the most ferociously athletic power forwards in the NBA, and ditto for Richard Jefferson at small forward. The pair combined for 30 points, and Martin hauled in 11 rebounds, in New Jersey's season-opening defeat of the Atlanta Hawks. Mutombo completes the formidable front line.
"It will be good to see what I can do against Kenyon and Mutombo," Brown said. "Those guys have a good reputation in the league, so when you go against guys like that and when you play well, you get a reputation."
Haywood will get the start again tonight at center after coming off the bench behind Christian Laettner in the opener.
Collins is making the starting center spot Haywood's to lose. Collins told Haywood after practice yesterday that he wants him to make it a goal to hold onto the job for the rest of the season. Collins also praised backup center Etan Thomas, saying he had his best practice so far of the season.

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