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Wizards' defense proves offensive

January 07, 2007|Brian Mahoney | Associated Press

Giving up 106 points per game is really no way to play -- unless you score 107.

That seems to be the theory of the Washington Wizards, who are thriving despite giving up more points than any other team in the NBA.

Washington went 12-4 in December, then opened the new year with a 108-105 victory over Milwaukee on Wednesday night on Gilbert Arenas' three-pointer as time expired.

The 105 points given up qualified as a decent night for the Wizards, who went into Friday's games yielding an NBA-high 106.6 per game. But they were scoring 107.7, second only to Phoenix, and figure that's good enough to overcome their deficiencies on the other end.

"You heard Gil say, 'Coach got on us about giving up 106, but we score 107. That looks like a winning team to me,' " Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. "So, what I am supposed to do?"

What he's tried to do is get the Wizards to get interested in defending earlier in the games. Washington did a decent job down the stretch Wednesday to rally for the victory, and Jordan would like to see his players have that type of intensity in the first few minutes, instead of only the last few.

"I think our group tends to think that to get stops late is a key -- it is a key -- but let's get stops early," Jordan said. "With our group, I don't know, they may think we don't have to play defense for 42 minutes, but for the last eight we can win games."

Washington can't be blamed for that. With Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison combining for around 70 points a night, the Wizards can be tricked into relying too much on their offense to bail them out. Butler was nine for nine in the first half Wednesday.

"When you got guys playing like that, it's hard to beat us," Arenas said. "Even if they're hitting every shot, we've got somebody who's hitting every shot too."

For now, it's tough to argue with the Wizards' logic. They had a five-game win streak last month, even though they gave up 115.4 points per game during it. And they say they are committed to defending, when the time is right.

"We're doing a good job in the clutch getting stops when we really need them," Butler said.

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Pay attention: Josh Howard has won two consecutive player of the week honors. The Dallas Mavericks want the recognition to go further.

The Mavs want to see Howard join Dirk Nowitzki at next month's All-Star weekend.

In their release announcing Howard's second award, the Mavs called Howard an "All-Star candidate" and pointed out that Nowitzki has been their only All-Star over the last two seasons, even though they have won 72% of their games.

"We like to let people know that our fans and the organization think Josh is an All-Star," Dallas owner Mark Cuban said. "Josh himself doesn't like the attention. So we try to balance his humility with the excitement we all have for his performance this year."

Howard has been terrific, helping Dallas to a pair of double-digit winning streaks and the best record in the NBA. He had 25 points and 11 rebounds Thursday night in a victory over Indiana, making the Mavs 31-1 over the last two seasons when he scores 20 or more.

A starting spot seems impossible, as Western Conference forward is the toughest race in the voting. Howard was running eighth through the third set of returns, nearly 600,000 votes behind second-place Tim Duncan.

But it would be hard to imagine Howard not being in Las Vegas if he continues his current level of play. He averaged 20.3 points in December, when he became the first Dallas player to win consecutive player of the week honors and joined Mark Aguirre, Michael Finley, Jason Kidd and Nowitzki as the only ones with more than one award.

Pretty good company -- with a chance to be around bigger names next month.

"It's good to be recognized and it would be cool to make the All-Star team," Howard said. "But it's no big deal to me. The same players make it every year."

*

Hornets' hard times: Playing hurt is no excuse for not playing hard. That was the message from Byron Scott, who had some tough words for his Hornets after they were blown out by Detroit on Thursday night.

New Orleans lost 92-68, its second-worst loss of the season. It was also the lowest point total of the season for the Hornets, who are last in the league in scoring. They fell behind in the first quarter and trailed the rest of the way, with the deficit ballooning to 26 by halftime.

"The first question that I asked them, and I asked them to be honest with me was: `Did you quit?' I am always honest with my players, and I wanted to know if they have quit and given up on the season," Scott said.

"We have 50 games left, and I know that they are getting a little discouraged and frustrated. But what we have in that room is what we have."

And these days, it's not much.

The Hornets have been crippled by injuries, turning what had been a strong start into what is looking like another season outside the playoffs.

They have been without Peja Stojakovic (back surgery), Chris Paul (sprained right ankle) and David West (right elbow surgery) for all or part of a stretch that included 10 losses in 12 games. Stojakovic is months away from returning.

That means the Hornets often have more talent on the bench than on the court. But no matter what, Scott expects the effort to be healthy.

"The bottom line is that they all get paid to come in here and play as hard as they can," Scott said. "If you have given everything that you have, then everyone can look in the mirror and be proud of what they did that night as far as effort and the way they played. I don't think a whole lot of guys can look themselves in the mirror tonight."

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