By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
AUBURN HILLS, Mich., Oct. 24 -- Etan Thomas rose up and swatted Carlos Delfino's layup attempt into the corner of the court, where it was promptly scooped up by Gilbert Arenas and taken in the opposite direction.
Thomas's third -- and most emphatic -- blocked shot of the first quarter was one of the highlights of the Washington Wizards' 101-94 loss to the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday night. It prompted Antonio Daniels to rise off the bench and slap his teammate on the back.
"Yeah, Etan," Daniels yelled. "That's what I'm talking about!"
And it's exactly what Coach Eddie Jordan and the Wizards are looking for out of Thomas and his competitor for the starting center position, Brendan Haywood. In keeping with Jordan's plan to rotate starts between his two veteran centers, Thomas started Tuesday night's preseason finale.
Thomas finished with two points, four rebounds and those three blocks in 12 minutes, and Haywood finished with three points and four rebounds in 16 minutes.
"I saw some real force in there," Jordan said of Thomas.
Selecting a starting center will be only one of the important pieces of business for Jordan and his staff leading up the Nov. 1 regular season opener at Cleveland. The Wizards have until Monday at 6 p.m. to trim the roster from 16 players to the league maximum of 15.
The final decision could hinge on the health of two players. Forward Darius Songaila is out with a pinched nerve in his lower back, and the Wizards are planning on playing without him for at least a portion of the first month of the regular season. Rookie forward Mike Hall missed the final two preseason games with a right knee strain.
Hall injured the knee at Dallas on Saturday night and returned to Washington on Monday to have it examined by team doctors. An MRI exam revealed no serious damage and Hall will not require surgery.
"I don't think it's as serious as we first thought," said Jordan, who has said he may go right up to Monday's deadline before making a roster decision.
The Wizards, who finished the preseason 4-4, will have seven days to prepare for the Cavaliers. Several players, including forward Antawn Jamison and guards Jarvis Hayes and DeShawn Stevenson, should benefit from getting extra rest.
Jamison left Tuesday night's game early in the first quarter after aggravating a sore right shoulder. Hayes and Stevenson have been playing a lot after undergoing offseason knee surgery.
Jordan said his plan was to give players Wednesday off and begin preparations for the Cavaliers on Thursday. Though the relatively long layoff could lead to a lack of rhythm in the opener, several players said the break will be helpful.
"It gives some of the guys a chance to rest up and take care of some of those little bumps and bruises before the season begins," said Arenas, who scored 12 points in 14 minutes before having a seat in the third quarter Tuesday night. "That part of it is good, but I never like to go that long without playing a game."
Wizards Notes: While Jordan went with his regular starting lineup Tuesday night, Detroit Coach Flip Saunders rested Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace. . . .
Forward Michael Ruffin sat out his third straight game with a bruised right foot but said he will return to practice this week and be available for the regular season opener. . . .
Tuesday's game followed a familiar pattern as the Wizards jumped out to an 18-point first-quarter lead. Washington's starters outscored opponents by 43 points in the first quarter during the preseason. . . .
Guard Roger Mason Jr. continued to make a case for a place in Jordan's regular season rotation by scoring a team-high 22 points and shooting 8 of 13 Tuesday night. Mason was especially effective from three-point range in the preseason, making 10 of 19 attempts.