SEATTLE, March 26 -- With their grasp on the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference slipping, and team chemistry teetering, the Washington Wizards were dealt another blow on this five-game Western Conference trip as they prepare to face the Seattle SuperSonics on Sunday. Center Brendan Haywood will miss at least two weeks and possibly the remainder of the regular season after he fractured the tip of his left thumb in the fourth quarter of the Wizards' 98-94 loss on Friday to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Haywood flew home to Washington on Saturday and will meet with a hand specialist on Monday. In his fourth season, Haywood was averaging career highs in almost every statistical category, with 9.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots. He had started 64 consecutive games for the Wizards -- the longest streak on the team -- after missing the first three games of the season serving a suspension for his role in a preseason brawl with the Chicago Bulls.
Haywood got hurt with about one minute left in the game, when he tried to challenge a jumper by Clippers forward Elton Brand. "I had my legs taken out from underneath me and it got jammed up against somebody's body or shoe," Haywood said after the game. "I don't know, it just hit something hard." Haywood writhed on the floor in agony until he left the game, holding his hand with 33 seconds remaining. He left Staples Center with a protective splint on his left thumb.
The broken thumb concluded a miserable night for the Wizards and Haywood, who got into a heated shouting match with teammate Kwame Brown in the third quarter. Following a blown defensive assignment that led to a dunk by Brand, the two were benched and began to argue with 4 minutes 1 second left in the period. At one point, Haywood got out of his seat and had to be restrained by teammate Laron Profit. Brown never moved from his seat but he continued pointing and screaming toward Haywood until assistant Phil Hubbard and teammate Antawn Jamison calmed him down.
"Cooler heads simply didn't prevail. I think we're both competitors and were frustrated about how the game was going and we both were way out of line with what we said to each other," Haywood said after the game. "It shouldn't happen and it won't happen again."
Haywood would later substitute for Brown in the fourth quarter, but they didn't acknowledge each other as they switched positions on the floor. The loss put the Wizards at 37-30, and they are just one-half game ahead of Chicago for fourth place in the East. With the Wizards' injury woes, just making the playoffs appears to be the goal for the final 15 games of the season.
Wizards players have combined to miss a whopping 265 games because of injuries and they have been short-handed for most of the past month. Haywood joins a list of injured Wizards that could form a solid starting unit, with Jamison (right knee tendinitis) and Jarvis Hayes (fractured right patella) at the forwards and Juan Dixon (sprained right ankle) and Anthony Peeler (sore right knee) at the guards.
"We have other guys who can step up and play at [Haywood's] position," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "We have adjusted all year to the injuries and we've had success. We'll have to move forward."
The Wizards are 3-4 without Jamison, who has missed the past six games. He is eligible to come off the injured list Sunday but he isn't expected to be activated until early next month. Hayes has missed the past three weeks, but possibly won't return this season. Dixon's return date remains unknown, and Peeler didn't travel with the team.
The Wizards have not made a decision on whether to activate 7-foot-3 rookie center Peter John Ramos, who has scored a total of six points in just four games this season and is on the injured list with plantar fasciitis. The 19-year-old Ramos played his most valuable role Friday against the Clippers, serving as a shield in the feud between Haywood and Brown.
Haywood's injury is considered less serious than the break that kept Hughes out six weeks and -- unlike with Hughes -- Haywood didn't hurt his shooting hand.
Haywood had been invaluable to the Wizards' success, giving them a low-post presence with injuries to Brown and Etan Thomas, who will start against Seattle. He took advantage of his time on the floor and provided game-clinching shots in home wins against New York and Houston and critical blocks in road wins in Indiana and Charlotte.
Haywood had been struggling in the first three games of this trip -- in which the Wizards are 1-2 -- averaging just 3.7 points and four rebounds in 22.7 minutes.
But after the loss Friday, Haywood said the Wizards could leave with something positive from this trip. "Just win games. If we can take care of Seattle and Portland, three out of five is all right with me," he said.
The Wizards will have to do that without him.