- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2003

TORONTO — On paper — and more importantly on the court — it looked marvelous.

With a new coach, new faces in important places and a new attitude, the Washington Wizards opened their season Wednesday with the largest first-night margin of victory in franchise history, 99-74 over the Chicago Bulls.

The franchise’s biggest previous opening victory had been the Baltimore Bullets’ 121-98 win over the New York Knicks on Oct.18, 1967. Some have suggested the Bulls might be a playoff team this season, but they didn’t show it.

Still, first-year Wizards coach Eddie Jordan wasn’t satisfied.

“I think we can play better,” said Jordan, wanting the Wizards to keep their romp in perspective. “I think we caught the Bulls on a bad night. In this league, anything can happen. Toronto beat [two-time Eastern Conference champion] New Jersey to start the season.”

Before they throttled the Bulls, Jordan said he didn’t want the Wizards to be too high if they won or too low if they lost. He wanted them to keep on an even keel and move on to the next game, tonight against the Toronto Raptors.

“It’s the first game out, and everybody’s excited — you’ve got me in a new uniform, a team with a lot of new players,” point guard Gilbert Arenas said. “But you’ve still got to maintain a level of composure. We’ve got 81 games left, and we’ve got to play every one of them like it’s a playoff game.”

It would be easy for a team on which the average age of the starters is less than 23 to get giddy about the way things went in Chicago, and the postgame locker room atmosphere reflected this. Brendan Haywood and rookie Jarvis Hayes laughed and joked as they studied the stats. Even Kwame Brown, who last season seldom cracked a smile, was clearly happy with the outcome and his eight points and eight rebounds.

Said guard Larry Hughes: “This is fun for us because you have guys who want to win, guys who want to earn respect and want to prove something, and the city is behind us so it makes it more important for us to go out there and win. But the key is to carry the momentum here and take it to our next game. It’s a long season. It’s a marathon.”

Although Jordan hasn’t talked about it much to his players, the Wizards have not had a team leader since Jerry Stackhouse was sidelined after the second preseason game by a sore knee that ultimately required arthroscopic surgery. However, Hughes and Arenas filled the void against the Bulls, combining for 38 points and 11 assists and clearly outplaying counterparts Jalen Rose and Jamal Crawford.

“It was the first time that we got solid, solid leadership from our two guards,” Jordan said. “Your guards lead you. … They led whether it was [by] talking, their inherent work ethic, whatever.”

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