- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2006

With three preseason games in the next four days, Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan needs only to fine-tune his lineups.

The Wizards play at Dallas tonight and play at Atlanta and Detroit on Monday and Tuesday. They begin the regular season Nov. 1 in Cleveland.

Jordan’s basic questions have been answered. He knows Gilbert Arenas, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison will be in his starting lineup. Sometime in the coming days he’ll decide whether to start Brendan Haywood or Etan Thomas at center.

But lineups aren’t the real concern right now. Jordan, more than anything else, is still trying to hone the defensive mind-set of his team.

“We want to continue what we’ve been doing,” Jordan said. “When you look around the league and you see that you’re doing pretty well with your opponents’ field goal percentage and you’re holding their scoring down, then you feel good about yourself.”

The Wizards have won their last three preseason games, allowing more than 90 points just once. Also in their last three games — a pair of victories over Charlotte and a win at Cleveland — the Wizards have limited their opponents to just 35.5, 44.7 and 45.5 percent shooting.

Jordan remembers last season when the Wizards emphasized defense throughout the preseason and then opened the season playing lockdown D on the way to a 5-1 start.

But after allowing only the Los Angeles Clippers to score as many as 102 points, the Wizards won two games, then allowed Cleveland 114 points in a loss that started a five-game skid. Washington allowed three of those opponents at least 108 points.

“We knew even then, when we started out strong, that we had some breakdowns defensively that were going to catch up with us,” Jordan said. “We opened the season by catching some young teams. We also got some teams from the West who were at the end of road trips, so that worked in our favor. But then we started to fall off.”

Jordan believes the Wizards have a deeper bench this season even though they’ll start without forward Darius Songaila. The 6-foot-9 Songaila has a nagging back injury that will keep him out of the season opener. Songaila, who has traveled with the team throughout the preseason, most likely will not make the road trip and instead stay in Washington to receive further treatment.

“They can’t give me a timetable because if I’m not 100 percent, there is no need to go out there and risk something,” Songaila said yesterday. “I don’t know. Maybe I’ll wake up one morning and I’ll be fine. I’m not ready to rule out the start of the season, though. I just want to do what is necessary to get back on the floor.”

When he does return, Songaila will be part of a bench that also includes Antonio Daniels, Jarvis Hayes and Michael Ruffin.

“The rotation goes about nine deep right now,” Jordan said. “We’ll find out over the next week or so who’s ready to move up and help us out in that department. I like the rotation right now.”

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