- The Washington Times - Friday, October 30, 2009

Washington Wizards players heard before the season about the reputation of their new coach for using a streamlined rotation.

Rather than using his full roster, Flip Saunders generally relied upon a core of eight players - a marked shift from the way the Wizards had been doing things, particularly in the woeful 2008-09 campaign under coaches Eddie Jordan and Ed Tapscott.

Saunders lived up to that reputation in training camp, producing a competitive situation in which his new charges vied for the three or four coveted spots behind the starting five.

The winners of the rotation race emerged Tuesday: Fabricio Oberto started in place of the injured Antawn Jamison, and Randy Foye, DeShawn Stevenson and Andray Blatche got a lot of minutes off the bench.

The losers also were apparent: Second-year center JaVale McGee got in the game for one minute, third-year forward Dominic McGuire played for two, and third-year guard Nick Young and 34-year-old guard Mike James both finished with “DNP Coach’s Decision” by their names in the box score.

Oberto, Foye, Blatche and Stevenson all showed in the season-opening victory over the Dallas Mavericks why they earned a spot in Saunders’ rotation.

Oberto displayed an ability to do the dirty work and elevate his teammates’ games. Foye scored 19 points, Blatche scored 20 and Stevenson forced guard Jason Terry to miss 11 shots.

“I’m comfortable with the guys we have,” Saunders said Thursday. “I thought DeShawn did great on Jason Terry. What can you say about Randy Foye and Andray Blatche how they played as far as coming off the bench? So I’m pretty comfortable with what we’re doing.”

Saunders said things could change slightly, however. During the preseason, the coach said he hoped to take advantage of McGee’s athleticism and length to give his team a boost of energy at various points in the game. And based on the development the coach continues to see, McGee’s playing time likely will expand.

“JaVale’s played really well. Today, he had as good a practice as I’ve seen any big man have today,” Saunders said. “Our guys understand that if you want to play, you have to play hard and you have to play efficient and you’ve got to know what we’re doing. You do those things, you’re going to get opportunity. Now we’re about to play a team that has a lot of athletic ability, and JaVale can have an impact.”

The lack of playing time for Young - the only Wizards player to appear all 82 games last season - was the biggest surprise of opening night because he at one point made a strong case to earn the starting job at shooting guard.

But inconsistency and a slowly developing ability to make well-rounded contributions on the floor kept him out of the rotation.

Saunders said Young had the correct response to not playing.

“He came in and worked hard today, did extra things yesterday,” Saunders said. “I think he understands what he has to do. I think he’ll continue to do those things, and he’ll get an opportunity.”

Coming off the bench was an adjustment for Stevenson and Foye. Stevenson made 189 consecutive starts for the Wizards, a string that stopped last season when he suffered back problems. Foye led Minnesota in scoring last season, starting 61 of the 70 games in which he played.

Both made a smooth transition against the Mavericks.

“Coach talked to me and said I’m a big role on this team, and that’s all I could ask for, getting in the game and contributing and doing well,” Stevenson said. “At the end of the day, I’d rather be out there coming off the bench rather than sitting on the bench not playing.”

Said Foye: “I think everything is all positive. It’s important to have a deep team to win a championship because anything could happen. And just having those players at every position, it’s a real plus for us.”

Notes - Backup point guard Javaris Crittenton, who missed all of the preseason because of a bone bruise and strained tendons in his left foot, underwent surgery last Friday. The Wizards said the procedure was an “exploratory scope” and that no new damage was found. Crittenton said he hopes to recover in six weeks. …

Antawn Jamison was cleared to shoot Wednesday for the first time since partially dislocating his right shoulder Oct. 14. The two-time All-Star power forward said he felt no pain during the workout or the day after and that he remains on target to return in two to four weeks.

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