Haywood, Thomas Move On After Altercation

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 23, 2006

Wizards centers Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood were back on the practice court at MCI Center yesterday, banging each other around and scrapping for position in the paint during a spirited workout in preparation for tomorrow's game at Cleveland.

There were no signs of ill will between the big men two days after an incident between them at practice Monday resulted in Haywood being pulled out of the starting lineup and replaced by Michael Ruffin in Tuesday night's 90-78 home win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Haywood, who scored nine points and pulled down nine rebounds while playing solid defense on Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett in 34 minutes, didn't start because he threw a punch during an otherwise "standard" practice altercation, according to a team source.

The incident was first reported yesterday in the Washington Times.

Thomas downplayed the altercation yesterday, calling it "a normal practice thing." He did not play against the Timberwolves, but that had nothing to do with what happened Monday, according to Coach Eddie Jordan.

"It was not a punishment, not at all," Jordan said. "It was not even close to being a punishment or anything like that. It was just the nature of the game [against Minnesota]."

With the Timberwolves utilizing a smaller lineup, Jordan relied primarily on a rotation of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Jared Jeffries, Antonio Daniels and Haywood. Ruffin played eight minutes and rookie guard Donell Taylor played nine.

That has been the primary rotation since the team parted ways with reserve guard Chucky Atkins on Jan. 18. Thomas, who is a team co-captain, has increasingly been the odd man out.

In his fifth NBA season and the longest-tenured Wizard, Thomas played only one minute in Washington's previous game, a loss at Dallas last Wednesday, and hasn't played more than 20 minutes since a Feb. 1 loss at Toronto.

Thomas is averaging 4.4 points a game, ranking him eighth on the team in scoring just ahead of Taylor. Thomas, whose offensive game has always featured more power than finesse, has clearly struggled to establish the kind of rhythm that made him a key part of last season's 45-win team.

Despite missing 32 games with an abdominal strain that bothered him for much of last season, Thomas averaged 7.1 points and 5.2 rebounds in 20.8 minutes while shooting a solid 50.2 percent from the field.

Thomas re-injured the abdominal muscle during the playoff series against Miami and spent most of the summer getting healthy. After a minor physical setback during training camp, Thomas seemed ready for the start of the regular season, but his production and minutes have fluctuated.

Thomas also dealt with an emotional setback when he missed three games in January following the death of his grandmother. In the 12 games since he rejoined the team, Thomas's minutes have been reduced and he's managed one double-digit scoring effort, a 12-point, five-rebound performance in the Jan. 28 win over Charlotte.

Despite the rough season, Jordan said yesterday he's confident that Thomas can make an impact over the course of the season's final 30 games.

"Absolutely," Jordan said. "We see it in practice. I know sometimes I may have a quick hook and we like the way that we're playing with seven guys, but he's the first center off the bench a lot. Of the 52 games we've played, he's been the first center off the bench [most of the time] so the opportunities have still been there for him to begin the game."

Thomas played some of his best basketball as a professional late last season when he reached double digits in scoring and rebounds in four consecutive games between March 27 and April 1 while Haywood was out of the lineup with a broken left thumb.

That production coincided with a four-game winning streak that helped propel the Wizards through the season's final phase. Thomas, who said he is motivated and in good health, expressed confidence that he can have a positive impact down the stretch this season.

"I'm just focused on keeping myself ready," Thomas said. "Whatever coach asks me, whatever my role is, that's what I'm prepared to do."

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