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Wizards Work the Inside Stuff

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 18, 2005; Page D03

The Washington Wizards didn't want forward Antawn Jamison to go down with right knee tendinitis in order to look inside more for offense. Now that the all-star has been relegated to a well-dressed spectator, the Wizards have no choice.

But, if center Brendan Haywood keeps backing down his man and dropping his short baby hook, forward Kwame Brown hits short jumpers and requests lob passes for dunks, forward Jared Jeffries slashes to the basket for layups, and reserve forward Etan Thomas attacks the rim with vicious dunks, Coach Eddie Jordan shouldn't have too many complaints.

Brendan Haywood and Washington's other big men have played well in Antawn Jamison's absence. (Joel Richardson - The Washington Post)

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In the Wizards' past two wins against the Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks, Haywood, Jeffries, Brown and Thomas have combined to score 93 points on 36-of-50 shooting (72 percent), taking the pressure off guards Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes to try to fill the void Jamison has left by themselves.

"They were pretty good," Jordan said of his front line. "Our guys have a lot of faith in the moves that make them successful."

As a result, Arenas and Hughes have been passing up difficult shots to pass inside for more efficient ones. "We're sharing the ball, everybody is playing off each other," Arenas said as the Wizards (35-27) attempt to win three consecutive games tonight in Milwaukee for the first time in more than a month.

Haywood has been on a roll the past 11 games, during which he has averaged 12.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. He also has connected on 55 of 88 field goal attempts (63.6 percent). When asked about the reason for his increased productivity, Haywood said: "Honestly, I really believe it's Larry being back. He gets me the ball in the right places."

Hughes has been back for seven games; Haywood has scored in double figures in five of those contests, including a season-high 22 points against Charlotte. "I know what he has, as far as the height, the long arms," Hughes said of the 7-foot Haywood. "I look for him up high and he can make the play. I tell him, 'I'll put it up there, you go get it.' It's really easy."

Since returning from a bruised right knee, Jeffries has averaged 10.8 points and 10 rebounds in the past four games. He grabbed a season-high 16 rebounds in a loss to the Boston Celtics. "This is such an important time in the season. It's time for all of us to step up and bring it," Jeffries said.

With much of the attention going to the league's highest scoring trio in Arenas, Hughes and Jamison -- also known as the "Big Three" -- Haywood and Jeffries have been the quiet contributors to the Wizards' success. They have playfully referred to themselves as the "Little Two" and even have a little hand signal, in which they point two fingers toward the ground. Two of the team's biggest clowns, Haywood and Jeffries celebrated the win against the Lakers by dancing around the locker room to the sounds of "Rapper's Delight."

"The Little Two [are] doing a good job, and Kwame is doing a great job, too," Arenas said. "He's not worried about points. He's doing all the little things. He's hustling."

Despite battling recurring injuries to his right foot this season, Brown is averaging 8.8 points and 9.2 rebounds in six starts this season. He had his best game with 16 points and 12 rebounds against Charlotte. But as a sign of his increasing confidence, Brown was running on a two-on-one break with Hughes on Wednesday night when he pointed toward the basket. Hughes tossed the ball toward the rim, and Brown rammed it home. "They haven't seen that all year," Brown said. "It gives them the confidence that I'm going to finish."

Thomas had 15 points against the Hawks, just his third game with 10 or more points this season and the most he has scored since he had 23 against the Bucks on Feb. 5. Thomas is still recovering from an abdominal strain that sidelined him for 32 games.

"We have to make sure we get the ball in the paint because now we have an opportunity to score in there," Jordan said. "With Kwame coming back a little bit healthier and Etan coming back a little bit healthier, we have to look to the post a little more."

Wizards Notes: The Wizards will release reserve forward Samaki Walker today, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. Walker, 29, averaged 1.7 points and 1.3 rebounds in just 14 games this season. The 6-foot-9 Walker hadn't played since scoring two points in a loss in Detroit on Feb. 12. He was placed on the injured list with a lower back strain two days later, but he hasn't been able to practice since he sprained his left ankle more than two weeks ago.

The Wizards (35-27) have just 14 players on their roster but waiving Walker allows them to sign another player, with Jamison (right knee tendinitis) and guard Anthony Peeler (sore knee) out indefinitely and Jarvis Hayes (fractured patella) and rookie center Peter John Ramos (right plantar fasciitis) on the injured list.

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