- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2005

TORONTO — Antawn Jamison and his Washington Wizards teammates had been struggling from the free throw line in their season opener against the Toronto Raptors last night at Air Canada Centre.

So when Jamison hauled in an inbounds pass from teammate Antonio Daniels, he knew he didn’t want to risk having to make a pair of free throws with the voices of 18,106 reverberating in his head. In that instant, Jamison opted for a running floater from the side of the basket, and his gamble paid off as he sealed a 99-96 victory for the Wizards. Washington won its third consecutive season opener under coach Eddie Jordan.

At the time, the Wizards had a one-point lead with the shot clock off. So Jamison, who finished with a game-high 29 points on 12-for-21 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds, could have forced the Raptors to foul him and send him to the line, where the Wizards were just 13-for-24 on the evening.

That option didn’t even enter his mind.

“It didn’t make sense,” Jamison said. “Brendan [Haywood] and Jared [Jeffries] were joking that if I missed it they were going to tackle me. But that’s a layup. I was in rhythm. I was going toward the basket.

“If I miss that, it’s like missing two free throws,” Jamison said. “I didn’t shoot the free throws that well tonight. I’d rather have that shot going toward the basket than taking my time on that free throw line [-] tonight especially. I didn’t think twice about running out because I knew they would have fouled me.”

Jamison got the opportunity because of a play by Haywood on the Raptors’ previous possession.

With 14.2 seconds left, Toronto’s Jalen Rose (team-high 20 points) was called for an offensive foul when he was whistled for pushing off on Haywood, who had 10 points and 14 rebounds.

Replays showed Haywood was hardly pushed. However, Haywood, who outweighs the slender Rose by about 50 pounds, knew just what to do.

“I just tried to move my feet and stay in front of him,” Haywood said. “Once I saw that arm I had to go into my acting game because I thought he had me beat a little bit. When I saw his arm go out, I knew I had to put the onus on the official to make the call.”

In playing their first meaningful game since last season — and their first game without the departed Larry Hughes — the Wizards at times looked shaky and off-balance against the Raptors.

Jordan wants the Wizards to be better defensively than they were last season, and they got off to a good start, holding the Raptors to just 39.8 percent shooting from the floor.

In the fourth quarter the Wizards were even better, forcing the Raptors into five turnovers and holding them to just 5-for-21 shooting from the field.

“We have veteran guys who know what wins in the NBA. They know they have to be organized offensively and we have to execute and get good quality possessions,” Jordan said. “At the same time, they kept talking about getting stops. For us to hold them under 40 percent on their floor is huge.”

Although the Wizards never put a lot of distance between themselves and the Raptors, they did show Jordan they can be balanced.

Gilbert Arenas finished with 21 points and seven assists. Jarvis Hayes looked completely unencumbered by his knee problems of last season and finished with 17 points off the bench. Caron Butler added 11 points and five assists.

Washington, which made 48.2 percent of its field goals, shared the ball, finishing with 27 assists and just 12 turnovers.

“It just shows that we’re heading in the right direction,” Hayes said. “We’ve been wanting to get out and see how we do against a team. We were good tonight, but there’s plenty of room to get better. We have to come back with a better effort against New York on Friday.”

Notes — After watching Denver’s Nene leave the season opener on a stretcher against San Antonio with a severe knee injury, Wizards forward Jared Jeffries made a quick call to his financial planer and upped his annual insurance coverage to $7 million. It had been $2 million. Nene, like Jeffries, is in the final year of his contract.

“After I saw that, I just felt the need to get on the phone and make a call to make sure I have the coverage I need,” Jeffries said.

The policy will cost Jeffries approximately $100,000.

Andray Blatche, Peter John Ramos and Awvee Storey filled out the Wizards’ inactive list.

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