- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

For the Washington Wizards, talk of reaching the proverbial next level is omnipresent these days. It comes from players, coaches and the owner.

So it was no surprise that coach Eddie Jordan was upset about his team’s failure in its season opener Wednesday, a 97-94 loss at Cleveland. And as adamant as anyone in the organization about the team’s plans, Jordan gave short shrift to any excuses.

He didn’t want to hear about the difficulty opening the season on ESPN against LeBron James, who despite Dwyane Wade’s success in Miami is clearly being pushed as the new face of the league.

He didn’t want to dwell on Gilbert Arenas’ scoreless first half, part of a nightmare outing in which he missed his first nine shots and finished with just seven points. After all, Jordan said, Arenas finished with 11 assists.

And Jordan wasn’t about to concede Cleveland’s rebounding advantage — 50-33, including a 16-9 advantage on the offensive glass — was too much for Washington to overcome.

Instead, Jordan placed the blame squarely on his players’ shoulders.

“We had our chances at both ends of the floor,” Jordan said. “We had two wide open 3s and we got stops but we didn’t get rebounds. They made the plays to win it and we didn’t capitalize on opportunities on our side of the ball.”

Jordan, clearly, is not going to accept moral victories. He thinks the Wizards are good enough to win games outright. When told Cleveland had missed 15 of its 30 free-throw attempts, Jordan quickly pointed out that the Wizards did a poor job of rebounding.

And, just as it did last season, the Wizards’ inability to defend cost them in the final minutes.

Jordan’s small lineup, with no one on the court taller than 6-foot-9, helped turn a 10-point deficit into a 93-91 lead with 1:46 left on Antawn Jamison’s running hook shot.

But the Wizards scored just one more point. Meanwhile, Cleveland’s next two baskets came on Larry Hughes’ dunk and James’ layup to give the Cavaliers a lead they would not relinquish.

While reserve forward Jarvis Hayes took consolation in the Wizards’ ability to stay close with Arenas (2-for-12) struggling — “I wouldn’t believe it in 40 years if you told me that,” he said — he also echoed Jordan’s sentiments. The Wizards, he said, have to be good enough to win games under tough conditions.

“We have a lot of guys who can step up. Caron [Butler] played great. Antawn played good. Gil is not going to have it every night,” Hayes said. “What we need to do is rebound better and focus better on getting that one stop when we need it.”

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