Wizards Notebook

Haywood, Thomas Still Battling for Starting Role

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 23, 2006

DALLAS, Oct. 22 -- Washington Wizards centers Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas will each get one more start before the preseason concludes -- Haywood on Monday night against Atlanta; Thomas on Tuesday against Detroit. But before the Wizards' 93-90 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday, Coach Eddie Jordan said he doesn't plan to make a decision on his final starter until just before the season opener on Nov. 1 against Cleveland.

"It's a close battle," Jordan said. "You put a gun to my head and say, 'Make a decision.' I'd say, 'It's a toss-up.' "

Thomas, who told Jordan last summer that he wanted to compete for the starting center position, gave Jordan a little more to ponder against the Mavericks. He grabbed nine rebounds, scored four points and blocked three shots, sending a layup attempt by Mavericks guard Devin Harris into the second row in the third quarter at American Airlines Center. "Etan brought the force," Jordan said. "It's not the numbers for me, but rather the way you play and what you accomplish. He played with passion, discipline, excitement. He was really into it."

Lang Making His Mark

Reserve center James Lang continues to impress the Wizards' coaching staff with his offensive repertoire. On Saturday, he sent the entire bench into riotous applause with his defense. Lang stripped Mavericks rookie guard Maurice Ager of the ball at midcourt; then the 6-foot-10, 285-pounder rumbled down the court for a breakaway dunk over the speedy Ager, who attempted to chase him down. "That was nice. That was Hakeem Olajuwon-like," guard Antonio Daniels said. "Hakeem used to do that all the time -- strip guards and go down and dunk it. That's an awesome skill."

Lang finished with seven points, five rebounds, two steals and his first assist this preseason on Saturday. In five games, he is averaging 5.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and shooting 66.7 percent from the floor (10 for 15) in 13.6 minutes. "We don't have that guy down on the box for us," Jordan said. "He has soft hands. Nifty moves. Just a good feel for the game. He's the project for us."

Lang, a former McDonald's High School All-American, has had a bumpy ride since the New Orleans Hornets selected him in the second round (48th overall) in 2003. He was released after just three months spent on the injured list, as questions about his conditioning kept him from sticking in the NBA.

After spending a year in Spain, the Utah Jazz cut him in training camp and he went on to play with the Arkansas Rim Rockers of the NBA Development League and averaged 8.3 points and 5.0 rebounds. He signed a pair of 10-day contracts with the Atlanta Hawks and another 10-day contract with the Toronto Raptors last season, but never saw action in a game. "I've learned from my mistakes in the past," said Lang, who turned 23 last week. "I just listen to the coaches. I'm just trying to work hard. That's all I can do."

When Lang was asked about the steal and dunk afterward, Jordan interrupted him before he could answer, saying, "Stay humble."

Hall Twists His Knee

Wizards forward Mike Hall suffered a setback late in the fourth quarter on Saturday when he twisted his right knee while playing defense. Hall, an undrafted free agent from George Washington, needed to be helped off the court with 5 minutes 33 seconds remaining. "I'm going to be fine," Hall said after the game, his knee heavily iced. He will be listed as day-to-day with a strained right knee but is unlikely to play Monday in Atlanta. Jordan said Hall, who averaged 3.8 points and 3.4 rebounds in five games, has been one of the surprises of camp. "He's got a good chance of making our team," Jordan said. . . .

With Antawn Jamison getting the night off and Hall out with an injury, forward Andray Blatche fouled out with 55 seconds remaining, forcing Jordan to call on his last remaining small forward, Caron Butler, to finish out the game. "I thought I was done, put the ice on and everything," Butler said with a laugh. . . .

Live audio of the Wizards' final two preseason games on Monday at Atlanta and Tuesday at Detroit is available at http://www.nba.com/wizards .

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