- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2006

DALLAS — Mention the Washington Wizards’ win over the NBA defending champion San Antonio Spurs and Wizards coach Eddie Jordan will point to the team’s blowout loss to struggling Houston.

Bring up the double-overtime victory in Detroit and Jordan will mention the 18-point beating his team took 24 hours later in Charlotte.

He might even mention his team’s embarrassing loss at Portland in December.

As Jordan prepared the Wizards (26-24) for tonight’s game at surging Dallas (40-11), he tried to get across yesterday that the Wizards cannot afford to dwell either on the success of winning 13 of their last 18 games or the earlier hardships that saw them drop 18 of 26.

“There is definitely room for improvement,” Jordan said yesterday following a short practice on the main court at American Airlines Arena.

The Wizards’ season has been wildly inconsistent, going from the euphoria of a 5-1 start that saw them ranked briefly atop the NBA defensive rankings — unfamiliar territory for a team that last season gave up more than 100 points a game. But Jordan knew there were some holes on defense that simply weren’t being exploited by opponents early on.

“I said that when we got off to that good start,” Jordan said. “Teams were getting easy baskets at the rim. And we beat some young teams like New York and Toronto, teams that were trying to come together. I knew then that we were not number one in the league in defense even though the numbers said we were.”

Soon the Wizards were giving up points and losing games in bundles.

In back-to-back loses to Cleveland and Minnesota, the Wizards gave up 114 and 109 points to start a five-game losing streak. They managed the 120-114 double-overtime victory against Detroit but fell below .500 on Dec. 8, when the Pacers embarrassed them 111-87.

And there the Wizards would remain for the next 30 games until they defeated Golden State 129-124 last Wednesday.

Over the last 18 games, the defense has been much stouter, holding teams to just 93.3 points a game, down substantially from their seasonal yield of 98.9. After allowing eight of nine opponents to better 100 from Dec. 19 to Jan. 7, the Wizards have allowed just four of their last 19 foes to do so.

While no one talks about it much these days, Jordan made the decision to bench starters Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood 18 games ago. It appears as if the message was understood.

“Guys just got tired of not playing up to our standards and not finding ways to win basketball games,” said Jamison, who along with Haywood came off the bench for two games.

“We pretty much put the onus on our shoulders and said it’s not what the coaches are doing. It’s pretty much the 12 or 13 guys that play together night in and night out,” Jamison added. “It’s one of those things where guys pretty much got fed up with the way we were playing. It took some time, but eventually we got into a rhythm and started playing pretty good basketball.”

Now the immediate order of business is to pull off an improbable upset of the hot Mavericks, winners of 14 of their last 15 games, in Washington’s last game before the All-Star break. And as Jamison said, “We’ve got to get out of the blocks fast when the break is over.”

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