Wizards Notebook

Songaila's Return Anything but Certain

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 19, 2006

It may be a while before the Washington Wizards get to see their $21 million offseason investment on the court. Darius Songaila, the Wizards' most significant offseason acquisition -- at least from a financial perspective -- has yet to participate in a full practice or play in a preseason game because of a pinched nerve in his lower back.

Neither Songaila nor the Wizards can offer a timetable for when he will be ready to play. With only three preseason games remaining, it is becoming more likely that Songaila won't be available until sometime in the regular season.

When asked if he will be able to play by the Wizards' season opener on Nov. 1, Songaila said: "You've got to ask the doctors or our trainers. They'll probably be better with a timetable and everything like that. I get evaluated, and they make all the decisions."

Songaila, a member of the Lithuanian national team, initially hurt his back prior to the world championships and aggravated the injury during a game against the United States. He thought that rest would help him recover, but he suffered a setback almost 30 minutes into the first practice in training camp.

Since then, Songaila has been limited to stretching and conditioning exercises. Songaila said he is "not in constant pain," but admitted he recently received an injection as part of his treatment. "It's just the treatment. Whatever the doctors prescribe, pretty much whatever they tell me to do," said Songaila, a 6-foot-9 forward-center who averaged 9.2 points and 4.0 rebounds last season for the Chicago Bulls.

Songaila traveled with the Wizards on their road trip through Cleveland, Charlotte and Chapel Hill, N.C., which afforded the former Wake Forest star the opportunity to catch up with family and friends in the area. His wife, Jacquelyn, is from North Carolina and his parents moved to Winston-Salem when he was in college. "It's always good to be home," he said. "I'm disappointed that I can't be a part of the preseason camp. I'm just dealing with that right now."

The Wizards aren't rushing him to return, giving him the time he needs to recover. Coach Eddie Jordan has used Songaila's injury as an opportunity to evaluate second-year forward Andray Blatche, who has shown flashes of his talent while playing more preseason minutes than all but two players on the roster. Songaila's injury also has given Jordan more time to assess James Lang, who has impressed the coaching staff with his soft touch on offense (66.7 percent shooting) and his inside play. "We like what we've seen lately of James," Jordan said. "He's gotten in better conditioning. He has played very solidly with the third team -- the free agents and rookies -- in the preseason games. So we really like him. We think he is a keeper as long as the next few weeks he continues to improve."

Rarefied Air No More

Gilbert Arenas might not be the only NBA player to have the oxygen level in his house converted to the "Colorado altitude" for long. Arenas said on Tuesday that "at least 14 players" have contacted him in recent weeks seeking information about having the same simulated conditions in their home. New Jersey Nets forward Richard Jefferson and Los Angeles Lakers center Kwame Brown called him, and several members of the Bulls approached him when the Wizards were in Chicago last week, Arenas said. Arenas changed his home atmosphere in hopes that it would give him more energy in the fourth quarter of NBA games. . . .

The starting center duel between Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas was put on hold during the Wizards' 100-84 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Tuesday. Haywood was expected to start and get extended minutes in North Carolina -- where he played in college -- but Jordan elected to give Thomas the day off. Thomas was in uniform for the game, but during a timeout in the first quarter, Thomas approached Jordan to tell him that he didn't have to play. "Etan played really hard minutes [on Monday] and we felt it was a good time to rest him," Wizards assistant coach Mike O'Koren said after the game. "He could use it, his body has been sore. He didn't mind it at all." . . .

Guards DeShawn Stevenson and Antonio Daniels also sat out Tuesday night, giving Jarvis Hayes the opportunity to start for the second time this preseason. Hayes finished with 11 points. . . .

The Wizards will unveil their new black alternate road uniforms during the annual Meet the Team party for season ticket and partial plan-holders today at 6 p.m. at Verizon Center.

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