WASHINGTON - It would be wise not to attach too much meaning to the Washington Wizards' exhibition opener with the Philadelphia 76ers last night.
After all, in terms of future impact, the game was a lot like the improvisational TV show, Whose Line Is It Anyway, where everything is made up and the points don't matter.
But one thing is certain: Even with Michael Jordan in street clothes, the Wizards, who outlasted the 76ers, 99-84, will be a whole lot more athletic than they were last season.
"I asked Aaron McKie at halftime: `Do you notice the difference in our team?' " said Washington coach Doug Collins. "He said, `You're a lot more athletic, taller,' and he said, `You've got some bite in your butt.' I looked at our coaches a couple times and I said, `I love our energy.' "
A lot of that energy came from the new infusion of youth - guards Juan Dixon and Larry Hughes and forward Kwame Brown.
Brown, last year's first overall draft choice, scored 20 points and pulled down five rebounds, continuing his steady improvement.
"A lot can happen in a year. That's the difference that a year makes," Brown said. "I've learned a little bit, and I still have got a lot to do. I still need to work on my free throws, and work on rotating over a little faster. I just have to keep doing it. What I have to do is stay consistent, and not just do it for one game."
Meanwhile, Dixon, a former Maryland standout getting his first NBA experience, had 14 points, aquitting himself well in his turns against Philadelphia's Allen Iverson, who had a game-high 25 points.
"I'm out there competing against a great player, and I'm out there challenging him every step I can," Dixon said.
"I thought I played tough defense at times, and I thought I made some stupid fouls at times, but he's a great player, and it's a tough assignment and I'm going to go out there and play with my heart and compete every minute that I can."
Dixon, who received a huge ovation upon his entry at the start of the second quarter, scored his first basket of the preseason on a dunk, something Maryland fans rarely, if ever, saw.
"You know why I didn't dunk at Maryland? Because we had that concrete at Cole Field House. We had no bounce in the floor. Here we have some bounce on an NBA floor. I didn't want to mess up my knees," said Dixon, with his tongue firmly implanted in his cheek.
Hughes, obtained as a free agent in the offseason from the Golden State Warriors, helped anchor a solid defensive effort as the Wizards got 15 steals, forced 24 turnovers and deflected a number of passes.
"I like to play defense," said Hughes, who had 13 points. "I like shutting the other team down. That allows us to get easy baskets and to take them out of what they're doing. Once you get deflections, it makes guys hesitant in passing the ball. Once you get in their passing lanes here and there, they never know where you're coming from."
Though it was the first preseason action for Washington and the second for the Sixers, the teams went at each other with something that resembled regular-season intensity. The Wizards, on the strength of a 35-point second quarter, led by as many as 19.
"I was so happy that Iverson played and McKie and [Eric] Snow, because you're not going to face a much better perimeter," Collins said. "So I wanted to play those guys, just for those guys to get a feel and I thought they did a nice job."
Meanwhile, Jordan, who has vowed not to play very much in the preseason, if at all, cheered from the sidelines. He is not likely to suit up until Tuesday, when the Wizards play the Denver Nuggets in Fayetteville, N.C.