By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 8, 2006
Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan briefly acknowledged an altercation last week between centers Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood yesterday, but he was far more interested in discussing how Thomas has performed in the first three games of the season.
Jordan is also concentrating on what the Wizards need to do to get back in the win column, starting tonight when they open a three-game homestand against the Indiana Pacers at Verizon Center.
"It's something that happened in the locker room, within the framework of the team, and that's where we're going to keep it," Jordan said of last week's incident. "It's behind us. It happens all over the league, different places, and we're no different than any team in the league. It's a part of basketball. Things happen. It's a nonissue for us."
Neither Thomas nor Haywood commented on the fight after Monday night's 106-103 loss at Orlando or yesterday following practice. Thomas was a notable bright spot in the loss, which dropped the Wizards to 1-2. He made 6 of 9 shots and finished with 14 points, 15 rebounds and a career-high six blocks in 37 minutes while winning his individual matchup with Magic forward Dwight Howard.
In three games, Thomas has made 76.2 percent of his field goal attempts and averaged 11.7 points and 8.7 rebounds in 26.3 minutes. Thomas was such a force against the Magic, Howard paid him a compliment after the game. Asked when the teams next meet, Howard smiled and said: "I don't know, but it will be a game I'll have marked on the schedule. Tell Etan I'll be waiting."
For the record, the Wizards and Magic next play Dec. 29 at Verizon Center.
One of the most impressive aspects of Thomas's performance Monday night was that he appeared to get stronger as the game went along. Last season, when he was still feeling the effects of a severe abdominal strain, Thomas appeared to tire as games progressed and he lacked the explosiveness he has been displaying so far this season.
Thomas played nine minutes in the fourth quarter Monday night and grabbed seven rebounds with three blocks. The key, according to Thomas, was the conditioning he went through this summer.
"It was different," Thomas said. "This summer, I was able to run and do sprints, do agility drills and play basketball, stuff like that. That was the main thing, just being able to get out there and play."
Thomas and Haywood rotated starts during the eight-game preseason schedule, and the competition between the two has been tight in practice. Jordan named Thomas as his starter two days before the season opener at Cleveland.
"I hope that it is just the beginning," Jordan said. "It's something that we saw, something that we needed and something that's been missing. I think it's going to get better and better with him."
The Wizards aren't ready to panic over the 1-2 start, but forward Caron Butler said the team understands the importance of creating some momentum. This week would be a good time because the Wizards will play Eastern Conference opponents Indiana, Milwaukee and New Jersey at Verizon Center.
"We have to bring it right here and send a message about home court," said Butler, who is shooting 51.3 percent from the field. "It's early and it's a long season but we don't want to keep letting these close games get away from us. We learned last year how critical some of these games can be as the playoffs get close."
Wizards Note: Guard Gilbert Arenas was wearing a bandage over his right eye yesterday, the result of an errant elbow thrown by Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu on Monday night. Arenas said the cut didn't require stitches and he will start tonight.