- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2008

When the Washington Wizards started the regular season 0-5, averaging just 90.4 points a game while shooting a paltry 36.4 percent from the floor, coach Eddie Jordan was asked why he just didn’t allow the Wizards — the highest scoring team in the Eastern Conference last season — to run.

Jordan, under whom the Wizards averaged 104.3 points a game last season, said he was tired of directing a team that could score on anyone but couldn’t stop opponents from scoring. So even with players voicing some dissatisfaction, Jordan stayed the course.

And right now it looks like it’s paying off.

The 15-14 Wizards, who expect to have guard Antonio Daniels back tonight after missing seven games with a sprained knee when they play host to hard-charging Detroit (24-7), are a much better defensive team now than they were last season, when they ranked 28th in the league in points allowed.

The Wizards gave up 104.9 points a game last season. This year they have improved to 14th with 98.4 points a game. That 6.5-point improvement ranks second only to the 12.4 change by the Atlantic Division-leading Celtics.

Jordan said yesterday the difference can be found in two places.

“First of all, you have to give a lot of credit to [assistant coach] Randy [Ayers] for implementing a defensive system,” Jordan said. “Two, I think Brendan [Haywood] has become a lot more passionate about defending at the rim. And Andray [Blatche] is helping us with blocked shots and rebounding.”

The Wizards had been looking to add a defensive-minded coach to the roster for the past few years, and after Bill Berry — a former scout hired to teach the team defense last season — wasn’t retained, Jordan went looking for help.

The Wizards took a circuitous route to Ayers, one in which Tom Thibodeau accepted the gig July 4 only to back out two days later. The Wizards also were unsuccessful in wooing Dwane Casey and Lionel Hollins to the job.

Ayers spent the last two seasons as an assistant in Orlando. He also coached the Philadelphia 76ers for a portion of the 2003-04 season, and he was the top defensive coach in Philadelphia when the Sixers reached the NBA Finals in 2001.

“He makes it a point to show you where you messed up,” forward Antawn Jamison said. “Everybody sees it. Part of it is just not wanting to get called out. But the one thing that he’s really helped us with is trusting our teammates. Guys have more trust now.”

Career years by both Haywood and Blatche also have helped improve the defensive effort.

Haywood leads the Wizards with 1.75 blocks a game, up from 1.14 last season, and Blatche is averaging 1.69 blocks after averaging .57 a game last season.

After Etan Thomas (a team-high 1.37 blocks a game last season) was lost indefinitely to open-heart surgery, Jordan wondered where the help was going to come from in terms of blocks.

“That was a huge question for us,” Jordan said. “Those guys are really playing well, and we hope it continues. We don’t have any reasons to think that it won’t.”

Today’s game


When: 7 p.m.

Where: Verizon Center

TV/radio: CSN, AM-980

Probable starters: Pistons — F Tayshaun Prince, F Antonio McDyess, C Rasheed Wallace, G Richard Hamilton, G Chauncey Billups. Wizards — F Antawn Jamison, F Caron Butler, C Brendan Haywood, G DeShawn Stevenson, G Antonio Daniels.

Injuries: Pistons — None reported. Wizards — C Etan Thomas (heart surgery), F Oleksiy Pecherov (foot), G Gilbert Arenas (knee surgery).



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