- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2002

WILMINGTON, N.C. The numbers roll off Doug Collins' tongue with surprising ease, much as an elementary school student recites multiplication tables.

In the Washington Wizards' 45 losses last season, opponents shot about 48.5 percent on field goals, almost 40 percent from 3-point range and averaged 99 points. In their 37 victories, they averaged 87 points, shot 42 percent and almost 30 percent from 3-point line. As if he needed to provide proof for his assertion that better defense is crucial to the Wizards' improvement, Collins said, "I've got the numbers that will just bear it out."

No need, coach.

It is abundantly clear that Collins has pored over these stats, sees the correlation to the Wizards' won-lost record last season and wants to rectify the problems. With his promise to make that a priority, Collins conducted the Wizards' first training camp session yesterday on the campus of UNC Wilmington with plenty of defensive emphasis.

"Our whole training camp will be built on defense first while we get together and become more cohesive offensively," Collins said. "To start out [last season], we were very porous defensively."

Collins was distressed by how the Wizards opened last season; in losing nine of their first 11 games, they allowed an average of 98.4 points. A look at the Wizards' defensive rankings in the league hardly reveals a team that possessed the sieve-like qualities Collins' comments might convey; they were 11th in points allowed (94.2) and 20th in field goal percentage allowed (45.2) not impressive but not deserving of ridicule either. Collins looks elsewhere for proof, though.

"I look at opponent's field goal percentage, 3-point percentage," Collins said as he began to run down a list of categories. "Those are all things to me. There's a lot of things that go into [good defense]."

Collins said he would like to lower the Wizards' field goal percentage defense to about 44, but all numbers aside, he hopes a little more effort on defense will translate into more transition opportunities on the other end. By adding a number of players who can effectively run the floor Larry Hughes, Jerry Stackhouse and Bryon Russell, for instance this offseason, Collins wants to employ a more uptempo style.

Aside from that, the thinking is clear with prolific scorers like Michael Jordan and Stackhouse, scoring is not an immediate concern. So Collins wants to shift the emphasis to the defensive end and get better there while players find their respective roles on offense gradually throughout camp.

"Our focus isn't offense we have proven scorers on our team," Stackhouse said. "Our focus in training camp and the whole season is for guys to get better defensively. This team last year was able to score. I've been on teams that were right there third, fourth in the league in scoring but gave up two more points. If we have success there, we have a great offensive mind for our coach."

Said Collins: "We've got to come out now and defensively dictate games, where now we've got Larry and Jerry and some of these guys [who] are so good in the open court, they can do what they do best."

Collins wants to try and better utilize Brendan Haywood as a forceful post defender and shot blocker and believes he can become an all-league defensive center. He said Haywood didn't get the best chances to block shots last year because sometimes his teammates didn't play solid weakside defense around him.

The Wizards concluded yesterday's practice by running halfcourt sets with a focus on playing screens and rotating properly. Collins was just getting the basics down with his players, but there's little doubt he'll be building on it for the rest of the season.

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