- The Washington Times - Friday, December 30, 2005

Eddie Jordan treats the unrelenting, unrequited nature of the NBA season with an even temperament that assuages the spirits of the team.

His team surrendered a game to the Suns but has only enough time to adjust to the arrival of Shaquille O’Neal and the Heat tonight. There is no time for reflection in the NBA, no time to dwell on lost causes and what could be.

The Wizards are 27 games into what has been a mostly disappointing start. The disappointment is stoked by the conference semifinal finish of the Wizards in the playoffs last spring. Genuine expectations accompanied the team going into this season.

Yet the Wizards are probably only three or four games behind where they should be, the cause easy enough to pinpoint. They have lost three games at home in which they scored more than 100 points: to the Nuggets, Bucks and Bulls.

That is a fairly incriminating mark, given the team has played only 12 home games at this relatively early juncture in the season.

Jordan is malleable and temperate enough to be at one with this potentially solid but fundamentally flawed team.

Jordan is what Doug Collins, his predecessor, never could be in fragile times.

Collins had the demeanor of a pseudo-football coach, as if each game was his private Armageddon. Players eventually tune these types out, if only out of self-preservation.

Jordan coaxes his players with a clinical air of reserve. He may be dying on the inside, ready to rage against the basketball gods, but he is too self-disciplined to let his personal feelings alter the collective good of the team.

The hard truth for Jordan is that too many of his top players are ill-equipped to be effective defenders, no matter how committed they are.

Antawn Jamison is a 6-foot-9 forward cursed with the physical frame of a shooting guard.

He takes a hit and inevitably yields defensive space.

The same shortcoming applies to Jared Jeffries and Brendan Haywood.

The NBA long ago left its noncontact roots.

The ability to create shooting space because of physical strength is the quality that distinguishes Dwyane Wade.

Even Jamison’s recent shooting troubles are connected to his limited capacity to absorb a blow. Jamison is at his best on offense if he is shooting an assortment of flip shots while driving to the basket.

Yet Jamison is not able to maneuver around certain defenders after taking a shoulder or hip from them. Either body part knocks him off his path to the basket, which inevitably requires him to become overly reliant on the perimeter shot.

Jordan is obligated to coach with these often disparate limitations in mind. Michael Ruffin is just what the team needs on defense. As essential as he is there, he is liable to break your heart on offense.

Even Gilbert Arenas, who has morphed into one of the NBA’s elite players, still shows his 23 years two or three occasions a game, usually with a lackadaisical pass you would not expect to see from a high school junior varsity player.

His addiction to the low-velocity, dying-quail pass is the principal reason he is averaging four turnovers a game, the one blemish on his otherwise impressive statistical sheet.

The Wizards have a 3-1 record since Jordan moved Jared Jeffries to shooting guard and inserted Caron Butler into the starting lineup at small forward.

This lineup, as long as it remains healthy, will reveal its true self in January, when the schedule of the Wizards becomes user-friendly. Nine of their 15 games in January are at home, and the quality of the opposition is largely suspect.

Theirs is no salvage expedition yet. The Wizards have been competitive in all but three games and are not as far removed from their 45-50-win prospect as it might seem.

This is a high-character team with a quality coaching staff and front office.

That combination is usually rewarded, even in the imperfect culture of the NBA.

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