PROJECTED STARTINGFIVE with 2006-07 statistics
KEY BENCH PLAYERS:G Antonio Daniels, F Darius Songalls, F Andray Blatche, G Nick Young (R)Rookie
Record: 41-41 (7th in East) Points Scored: 104.3 (4th in NBA) Points allowed104.9 (28th) Coach: Eddie Jordan (fifth season with Wizards)
Forward AntawnJamison doesn't have to peruse NBA season previews to know that few peopleexpect his team to win the wide-open East this season. "Gilbert [Arenas] isalways on the Internet, so he's reading that stuff and letting us know,"Jamison says. "And Caron [Butler] has always got his head in a magazine.He'll come into the locker room and say, 'They're picking us to do this orthat,' or, 'We're the underdogs.' "
Forgive theWizards if they feel overlooked entering the season. After all, they had thebest record in the conference (27-18) as late as Feb.¬†1, before they weredecimated by injuries. First, Jamison sprained left knee on Jan. 30 and wassidelined for a month, then Arenas (left knee) and Butler (right hand) werelost for the season in April.
With its Big Threehealthy again and few changes to the roster, Washington hopes to resume playingwith the success it had in the first half of last season. The Wizards certainlywon't have trouble scoring (they were fourth in the NBA at 104.3 points pergame), but they must improve a defense that ranked among the bottom four inpoints allowed (104.9) and opponents' field¬†goal percentage (47.3).Jamison estimates that he and his teammates spent 80% of training camp workingon defense, compared with a 50-50 split in the past. "The main thing is, wejust have to be more consistent," Jamison says. "In the past we'd do itfor five to 10 games, then we'd slack off for 10 to 15 games."
If Washington canplay with defensive intensity every game, it could sneak past a few of theteams billed as Eastern Conference favorites in those previews. "Everybodysays the Big Three is in Boston now, and the old Big Three is out thewindow," Jamison says with a laugh. "But we know what to do [to regainthat title]. Gilbert and Caron and I just have to produce, and we as a teamhave to win a lot of games."--M.B.
An opposing team'sscout sizes up the Wizards
Losing Etan Thomas(heart) will hurt because they can't count on Brendan Haywood and DariusSongaila to defend inside. When Haywood shared time with Thomas, they provideddecent numbers: Haywood with more length, Thomas with more toughness. On hisown Haywood is not a rebounder, and he vanishes for long periods of time. . . .The Wizards talk about how they're going to defend, but I'm not buying it. Theybuilt this team without defenders, and the players--and coach--don't have it intheir makeup. . . . From the things that come out of his mouth and the way heplays, I wonder if Gilbert Arenas is more into proving he's an MVP candidatethan in getting his team an upper seed and carrying it through the first roundof the playoffs. I wonder if this whole persona thing will be theirdownfall--that Arenas will become bigger than the team, like Allen Iversonbecame in Philly. . . . DeShawn Stevenson is probably their best defender. He'sbig and physical, he doesn't back down, he gets in there and moves hisfeet.
In Wizardsvictories last season Gilbert Arenas shot 48.5% from the floor and averaged32.4 points. In losses his field goal accuracy plummeted to 33.8% and hisscoring dropped to 23.9 points per game.
KENT SMITH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
DRIVEN Arenas will be out to prove that he hasn't lost a step since an April injury.
NED DISHMAN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
¬†IMMERSION THERAPY¬†Jamison estimates that the Wizards have spent 80% oftheir time in training camp working on defense, a far cry from the 50-50 splitof previous years.