Without offensive stars, focus turns to defense

It can be hard to decipher a glare from Randy Wittman. More than a few times during Wizards training camp the coach has honed in on a player with lowered eyebrows and a laser-like stare to get an instruction point across.

Occasionally, it's met with dissent -- a risky strategy. Sometimes, it's followed by the slightest upturn at the sides of Wittman's mouth, an ever so slight hint of a smile that says all remains good, at least until the next mistake is made.

But Wittman hasn't backed down or let up on his team in preseason. In return, despite major absences due to injury, battles among his players in practice have been fierce and numerous. They have to be for a team without two of its primary offensive weapons to start the season. The Wizards must build their identity on the back of effort and defense.

Wizards vs. Heat
When » Wednesday, 8:30 p.m.
Where » Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.

"Our intensity level this year has been a huge difference, both in games and in practice," Wittman said. "As I said even prior to coaching these guys one day, I thought the competition was going to be great, and it has. That wasn't the case, I felt, last year at this time."

Rookie Bradley Beal tweaked his left ankle in practice on Monday just as a back-and-forth full court scrimmage was reaching a crescendo. Moments before, Trevor Booker bullied Martell Webster into the paint for a short jumper. During the action, the amount of talk on the Verizon Center practice court reached a point where Wittman tried to get the place to quiet down.

"I like his style, I really like his style," center Emeka Okafor said. "A real straightforward guy, he has an interesting sense of humor. He's funny. He's very methodical. He knows we have a young team, so he's really gone through all the stats, really breaking everything down by detail."

It could be a blessing or a curse that a de facto starting lineup hasn't yet emerged, but Wittman has also had the fortune to shuffle his rotations in preseason against teams playing for a result. In their debut game at Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets put starters back in late in the fourth quarter to make sure they achieved a victory. Milwaukee had a similar approach and lost at home to Washington last weekend.

There is less incentive for the well-established Miami Heat or veteran San Antonio Spurs to take the same approach in the Wizards' final two preseason games. But Beal, who is just beginning to get used to a more aggressive approach defenders are taking with him, doesn't want to change his. His status is questionable after sitting out practice on Tuesday.

"To me a preseason game is like a regular-season game," Beal said. "It's still a game. You're still trying to win, still competing, and when you get a chance to play the team that won the championship last year, you should always try to come out and make a statement."