- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Despite a 1-4 record during their first five preseason games - low offensive outputs, poor defensive efforts and lopsided losses a common theme in all four defeats - the Washington Wizards remain upbeat.

And although they’re still working to adjust to the loss of center Brendan Haywood (wrist) and the delayed return of Gilbert Arenas (knee), the veterans have a clear message for their teammates as they prepare for their final two preseason games - Wednesday in San Antonio and Friday against the Cavaliers in Columbus, Ohio.

There’s no need to panic because it’s only the preseason. But at the same time, it’s important that they take a diligent approach to the final tuneups rather than wait for Oct. 29 to flip the switch. And as they do, the Wizards won’t allow their limitations to hold them back, instead following the examples from elsewhere in the sports world.

“We haven’t been whole in a long time, but at the same time, we’re used to dealing with the naysayers,” forward Caron Butler said. “Our team represents Bernard Hopkins and his situation. You look at how everybody said what he couldn’t do, and he went out there at 43 and put the beat-down on [Kelly] Pavlik. And you see the same thing going on with this basketball team, people saying, ‘This happened, so they shouldn’t be that good,’ but guys step up and make a conscious effort, and as a whole, we step up.”

While poor defensive execution was coach Eddie Jordan’s chief concern over the last two preseason games, the Wizards responded in an encouraging way in the last two practices, reverting to the level of commitment they showed on that end of the floor during training camp.

Butler called sessions Sunday and Monday some of the best practices he had been a part of in his four years in the District.

“Guys are really getting after it because they know what’s at stake because we can’t start the year off slow,” he said.

The Wizards are the healthiest they have been in weeks. Forward Antawn Jamison, who strained his right knee and missed a week of action before playing Friday, said he feels no pain or discomfort. He even practiced without the aid of a brace Monday. Backup guard Nick Young, who has yet to play in a preseason game because of a sore left knee, appears close to a return after going through a full practice Monday and likely will return to action either Wednesday or Friday.

A key question mark remains the center position, however.

“You look at Etan [Thomas], who has been out of basketball for some while, and it’s going to take him a while to get comfortable with what we’re trying to do,” Jamison said. “You look at [rookie] JaVale [McGee] who is young, but you put him out there to play, and he does some good things, but we also need him to be disciplined and know some plays. And then you look at [Andray Blatche]. Right now it’s a toss-up. Is he going to get it or not?

“But right now, that’s my only concern. As far as the guard play, as far as Caron and myself, these next two preseason games will get us into a rhythm, and we know what we’re going to get. But we definitely need our bigs to step it up a little bit, show some more consistency not only offensively but defensively as well.”

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