The Washington Wizards relied heavily on starters Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Larry Hughes to get them back to the playoffs in 2004-05. This season, they’ll look to their bench to try to sustain that success.
Washington looks to build off its performance of a season ago when it visits the Toronto Raptors in the opener for both teams.
The Wizards reached the playoffs for the first time since 1997 last season, and their 45 wins were the most since they went 54-28 in 1979. Arenas, Jamison and Hughes combined to average 67.1 points, 18.6 rebounds and 12.1 assists as Washington reached the second round of the playoffs and brought excitement to the nation’s capital.
“The city embraced winning,” Arenas said. “They’ve been waiting a long time. We gave them what they want, so we don’t want to come out here and it’s like, ‘Ah, you know, they did it for one year and we’ve got to sit for 26 more.’ No. We’re ready, and we’re committed to winning now.”
The Wizards, though, broke up the trio with the decision not to retain Hughes, who signed a five-year, $60 million deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Washington will look to the bench to pick up for Hughes, led by newcomers Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins, and holdovers Jarvis Hayes, Etan Thomas and Michael Ruffin. Butler and Atkins came to Washington in a sign-and-trade deal that sent Kwame Brown to the Los Angeles Lakers.
“We’re the ‘bench mob.’ We’re going to come out and pick up where the starters left off, keep the energy going, keep the flow going, keep the intensity going and leave it all out there,” said Butler, who signed a five-year extension worth $45 million Monday.
“I’m not used to it, and I’m not going to get used to it. But I’m just going to continue to go out there and play hard.”
“Antonio has been very good in his preseason games, defending, talking, sharing the basketball, making the extra pass, running the offense,” Jordan said. “(Jared’s) defensive mind-set is very big for us.”
The Wizards have not reached the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 1987-88.
The Raptors will have a tough time making the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Coach Sam Mitchell is breaking in three rookies—Charlie Villanueva, Joey Graham and Jose Calderon—into his rotation and the veterans will be counted on to ease the transition.
“Very few rookies come into the league and have the complete package,” Mitchell said. “They’re going to see different things different nights, they’re going to have fatigue, physically and mentally, and they’re going to have to learn to play through that.”
Villanueva, the seventh overall pick, averaged a rookie-best 16.9 points in the preseason. The 6-foot-11 forward is expected to bring needed size and defensive presence to a Raptors team that was last in the league in rebound margin and yielded 101.4 points per game last season.
“That’s one thing as a veteran you want from young players, they’re willing to work and they have talent,” guard Jalen Rose said. “I like that they’re willing to listen and willing to learn.”
2004-05 STANDINGS: Wizards - 2nd place, 14 GB, Southeast Division. Raptors - 4th place (tied), 12 GB, Atlantic Division.
2004-05 TEAM LEADERS: Wizards - Arenas, 25.5 ppg and 5.1 apg; Jamison, 7.6 rpg. Raptors - Rose, 18.5 ppg and 2.6 apg; Bosh, 8.9 rpg.
2004-05 SEASON SERIES: Wizards, 3-1.
LAST MEETING: Feb. 4; Raptors, 103-100. At Toronto, Rose scored 26 points as the Raptors made up a 15-point deficit in the final 17 minutes.
2004-05 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Wizards - 16-25 on the road. Raptors - 22-19 at home.