- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 7, 2007

RICHMOND — After closing training camp last night with an intrasquad scrimmage, the Washington Wizards believe they are off to a better start than last season.

“We didn’t waste any time at all,” said Wizards forward Antawn Jamison, who along with Gilbert Arenas, was given last night off. “We’ve got some young guys and some rooks on this team. But we’ve been through this before. From day one we just got up and got it going. We went over some things when we first got here, but after that we hit our stride. We were doing things here that last year I don’t think we did until the third week of the preseason.”

Center Brendan Haywood scored a game-high 14 points to lead the black team over the white team 58-44 at Siegel Center. Forward Andray Blatche, who appeared to have a breakout camp, led the white team with 10 points.

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan was not with the team last night because of a death in his family. Jordan is expected to rejoin the team today when it resumes practice at Verizon Center.

Associate head coach Mike O’Koren echoed Jamison’s evaluation of the Wizards’ five-day camp.

“This year has been better than in the past because we are ahead of schedule,” O’Koren said. “As coaches we look at our practice plans from years past. You do that and you can look at the things we were doing in practice this year and compare them. Things we were doing in our third practice we didn’t get to until the sixth, seventh and eighth practices last year.”

That, according to O’Koren, is a byproduct of the Wizards keeping their core group of players together.

In the past two summers the Wizards have lost the players regarded as their best defenders — Larry Hughes in 2005 and Jared Jeffries in 2006 — to free agency.

Players whom the Wizards allowed to depart this past summer — Calvin Booth, Jarvis Hayes and Michael Ruffin — made minimal contributions to last season’s 42-40 playoff team.

“There is a lot of continuity with the players that we kept,” O’Koren said. “They are very familiar with what we are trying to do at both ends of the floor. So that’s helped us move a little bit quicker.”

Defensive strategies have been emphasized at past training camps. However, that focus usually disappears by the first 10 games of the season.

This time, however, Caron Butler thinks this season might differ from recent years here.

Butler said the key to playing defense is to get everyone on a string, which is a simple way of saying everyone must be accountable for what they are supposed to do on every defensive set.

According to Butler, the Wizards spent about two hours each day focusing on the aspect of team defense, a strategy that was pounded into his head when he played in Miami.

“When I played in Miami we were one of the best defensive teams in the league,” Butler said. “That’s because Pat Riley and Stan Van Gundy emphasized defensive assignments. They had a philosophy. If this guy moves, you go here. Protect the paint, shrink the floor, cut off the baseline.

“That’s the same thing that we did and it begins with trust. When we watched films we could see where a guy is supposed to help out but instead he just stayed with his man and did the safe thing. So we focused a lot on help defense.”

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