- The Washington Times - Friday, January 9, 2009

Since Ed Tapscott took over as interim coach of the Washington Wizards after their 1-10 start, he has preached the importance of redefining the team’s style of play and developing signature wins.

During the healthy seasons of the “Big Three” of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, the Wizards could run down the court, knock down a quick jumper and engage in a shootout with opponents. But with Arenas shelved with injury and with more young, developing shooters on the roster, those tactics failed this year.

So Tapscott wanted a new signature: The Wizards would try to limit opponents’ production rather than match firepower, and they would crash the paint in pursuit of rebounds and points.

“We’ve been accustomed to being the type of team where you let a couple guys maneuver with the ball and sit and wait, but we’re not that type of team right now,” Jamison said. “So we have to do the little things, which is drive the ball, move the ball. And the thing is we do it, but it’s not until we’re down 14 or whatever. We’ve got to find a way to do it from the start because it’s normally the first couple minutes of the game that we fall into that trap.”

The Wizards have showed gradual improvements in these areas.

In their past 10 games, the Wizards have held opponents to an average of 92.2 points. Only one, Boston, surpassed 100 points. Before that, the previous eight foes averaged 107.2 points.

And in their six games before Wednesday’s loss to Toronto, the Wizards held their opponents to 44 percent shooting from the field, considerably better than their season total of 47.4 percent.

In those six games, Washington also did a better job of playing with aggression and driving to the basket rather than settling for jump shots. As a result, the Wizards (7-27) posted a 3-3 record.

But the Wizards seemed to regress Wednesday night, in part because they allowed the Raptors to dictate the style of play. Toronto, which made 54 percent of its shots from the floor, opened the game by running down the court, popping a jumper and getting back on defense. The Wizards tried to match that style of play but missed eight of their first 11 shots and fell behind 19-6 in the first quarter.

“I said to these guys, if we just go out and match jump shots, it’s going to be a long night,” Tapscott said. “We’ve got to have drives to the basket, got to get fouls and we’ve got to have some scores in the paint. When we do that, if you check our wins, we have a fair number of scores in the paint. When we don’t, we don’t have balance.”

Producing that balance is a tough test, however, both for the Wizards’ six players with four or fewer years of experience and for their six veterans.

“We fall in love with the jump shot,” Butler said. “You see their jumpers going in, and you try to match that bucket, and before you know it you’re down 15. Now you’re in a hole, and you’re trying to climb out. But we have to stay true to who we are. We’re a scrappy team, run pick-and-rolls and get to the paint and play off each other, but over the course of the game, we fell in love with the jump shot.”

Entering Wednesday, the Wizards had hoped to take advantage of eight straight games against opponents with losing records. But if they lack discipline, even a foe like Toronto, which was missing three starters, can seduce Washington into neglecting its game plan.

“We’re becoming a new team,” Tapscott said. “This was a team set up offensively, and now we’ve got to set ourselves up so we’re a defensive team and a rebounding team and an efficient offensive team. So we’re remaking ourselves, and there will be some steps forward, and there will be some steps back. We need to remind ourselves: What are the values that we need to emphasize from a basketball standpoint? What do we do to win games? If we defend and we rebound and we execute our offense, we are able to win games. If we don’t do that, then we struggle.”

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