- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2008

For much of the season, the Washington Wizards have lacked firepower in the backcourt. Seeking to address that deficiency last week, they acquired point guard Mike James from the New Orleans Hornets.

The Wizards know it will take time for James - and fellow pickup Javaris Crittenton, acquired in the same trade from the Memphis Grizzlies - to learn the team’s system. But in the interim, James’ solution for compensating for his lack of familiarity is a simple motto: When in doubt, attack.

“Pick-and-roll is universal. Every team in the NBA understands that, and that’s one of my strong points: pick-and-roll basketball,” James said. “And one of the first things you learn as a point guard, Tim Hardaway told me a long time ago, ‘You’re the first option in the pick-and-roll. And if you’re aggressive on pick-and-rolls, it opens up everything else.’ So that’s why I’m aggressive coming off those screens.”

And so James, aware of the Wizards’ backcourt struggles, played in attack mode when he arrived in the District. Despite having time only for a 15-minute crash course in Washington’s system after the trade, James played 11 minutes and took six shots against Boston on Thursday. He missed all of them, but it didn’t discourage him.

Two days later, when the Wizards played at Philadelphia, James had a much better night, catching passes off screens and taking the ball to the basket without hesitation. He had 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting in 24 minutes off the bench, one of the few bright spots in the Wizards’ 104-89 loss.

Mike James is stepping up with some real good effort,” forward Caron Butler said. “He’s going to bring that. I played with him in Miami and know what type of player he is. He’s going to be aggressive and hit shots, [and] he brings a lot of positive energy. So if we continue to play off him and play off each other and establish a rhythm, we’ll be all right.”

Despite his knack for scoring, finding a home always has been a struggle for James, who has averaged 10.6 points and 3.6 assists in his career but has played for nine teams (including two stops in Houston). After two seasons in Miami, James went to Boston and then was a late-season addition to the Detroit squad that won the NBA championship in 2003-04. In 2005-06, he had a career season by averaging 20.3 points and 5.8 assists for Toronto. Then came stops in Minnesota, Houston and New Orleans.

James’ scoring mentality caused him to fall out of favor with Hornets coach Byron Scott. Last week, when asked whether James would have been more comfortable playing shooting guard, Scott told reporters, “He was playing that anyway - while he was playing point.” And so James was banished to the bench and hadn’t played in nine of the Hornets’ final 10 games before the trade.

When the Wizards made the deal, James felt he had been rescued and welcomed the chance to play for a team that wanted to take advantage of his scoring abilities.

“It’s been frustrating the last couple of years,” he said. “[On] one team I was trash; hopefully I can be a treasure here. It was just frustrating being on the bench. Now it’s exciting being on a team where I have a chance.”

James has some familiarity with Washington’s system because it’s similar to the offense New Orleans ran. But he admitted he has more to learn and tries to soak up as much as he can in practice so he won’t be limited when called on.

“I still have a problem with the playcalling some times, and I may get a little brain-locked at times as far as not knowing where I’m supposed to go,” James said. “But I’m just trying to take full advantage of the practices we have. I’m trying to do whatever it takes to help this team win - and that’s being aggressive.”

Note - Backup center Etan Thomas missed practice Sunday and is out for Monday’s game against Indiana so he can go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for a routine heart checkup. He missed all of last season after having a leaky aortic valve repaired.

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