Wizards-Sixers game preview

Wizards-Sixers game preview
December 16, 2011, 7:29 pm
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It's been a busy week at Verizon Center.

Curly Neal of the Harlem Globetrotters, minus the water bucket filled with confetti, dazzled fans at a Wizard's season-ticket-holder holiday party. Team owner Ted Leonsis used an anecdote from the maker of the Ferrari race car to preview the season, while coach Flip Saunders had popcorn on his mind.

Oh, and the preseason opener is tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Tonight's game will be greeted with a sense of wonder and anticipation. An already young team with even younger players will also sport new colors. (Actually they are old colors -- the red, white, and blue that served the Bullets so well for over three decades.) Fans will get a first glimpse at rookies Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack and at a team that showed progress in the final month of the season.

The team's 5-3 record in April was nice, but Leonsis and the Wizards are more concerned about the destination in this basketball journey. Leonsis noted that it was the man behind the Ferrari race car team that removed rear-view mirrors so his drivers would not look behind them. With the Wizards, Leonsis said all eyes should be looking forward.

This is where Saunders comes in with his popcorn theory. Saunders said there are players that can take their games to a new level when they get to the gym for game day and smell the popcorn popping. It's something Saunders hopes to see signs of tonight.

"The biggest thing with young players is that they really start to develop when they play with a purpose instead of just playing," Saunders said. "We are seeing that with our young guys."

The young guys will get their chance to play. With a 66-game season jammed into basically four months, Saunders said it will be important to go deep on his roster.

While watching a practice earlier this week, Leonsis said he was impressed by the teams variety of defensive sets. With several players who are big but can guard multiple positions, the Wizards hope to disrupt opposing teams and then score in transition.

Leonsis particularly noticed a defensive sequence when rookies Vesely and Singleton were used to double-team a point guard as he crossed midcourt.

"It was interesting to say the least to watch two big, fast, enthusiastic players run at someone bring the ball up," Leonsis said.

The Wizards are a team trying to build through the draft, develop young players and have salary-cap flexibility. Concerns about the free agents and the salary cap are for another day. Tonight is about recent drafts and another lap on the NBA track without a rear-view mirror.