Wizards' Centers Banged Up

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 11, 2006

Etan Thomas limped out of the Washington Wizards' locker room in a walking boot Saturday night, the product of a fourth-quarter landing on Yao Ming's size-18 shoe.

Brendan Haywood was walking gingerly when he left the building, which is bound to happen when a 7-foot-6, 310-pound man such as Yao inadvertently drives one of his knees into an opponent's thigh.

Neither Thomas nor Haywood was able to finish Saturday night's 114-109 loss to the Houston Rockets at Verizon Center and both players are listed as day-to-day. Thomas, who had to be helped off the court by an athletic trainer after rolling his left ankle over Yao's foot with 11 minutes 5 seconds remaining in the game, appeared to have suffered the more serious of the two injuries.

The team will evaluate the level of swelling in Thomas's ankle before setting a timetable for his return, but it appears that Thomas could be out at least a few games.

Haywood, who was injured in a second-quarter collision with Yao, described himself as "okay" after the game and said he would know more today when the Wizards return to practice and start preparing for Wednesday's game against the Denver Nuggets at Verizon Center.

Thomas and Haywood combined to score four points and grab seven rebounds Saturday night but they were no match for Yao, who controlled the game on his way to 38 points, 11 rebounds and 6 blocked shots.

The good news is that neither the Nuggets nor any other NBA team -- even the Miami Heat -- has anyone as dominant in the paint as Yao, who is in the midst of a career season that peaked with Saturday night's performance.

"Well, we're done with Houston so we don't have to see him anymore," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said after heaping praise Yao's way after the game.

Veteran Calvin Booth and James Lang, who scored his first regular season point at Chicago on Dec. 2, took turns tackling Yao and will likely play more if either Thomas or Haywood, or both, are unable to play Wednesday night.

Jordan also has used Michael Ruffin at center in the past, but Ruffin remains out with a sprained right foot and may not return this week. Another potential center, Darius Songaila, remains out with a back injury and no timetable has been established for his return.

Lang didn't record a statistic other than four fouls in 4:25 of playing time Saturday night while Booth finished with three points, two rebounds, one block and three fouls in nine minutes.

Booth's lone field goal was a big one. He made a three-pointer -- just the second of his career -- as the shot clock wound down at the end of a possession with 30 seconds left in the game. The shot trimmed Houston's lead to one point, but Yao posted up Booth on the ensuing possession and scored on a jump hook.

Booth, who was drafted by the Wizards in 1999, has played in 286 games with the Wizards, Dallas Mavericks, Seattle SuperSonics and Milwaukee Bucks during his eight-year career and did not appear to be fazed by the bizarre chain of events that took place Saturday night.

"You always have to be ready," Booth said. "This can be a crazy game, so you always have to be ready when Coach calls. I had to step in tonight, and I'll be ready to do so again. James Lang is going to have an opportunity as well. It's tough to lose two key members of the team in the same game, but you can't expect anybody to take it easy on us. We just have to get ready for the next one."

Jordan has been intrigued by Lang's raw ability since training camp opened in October and has steadily brought Lang along during the early portion of the season.

The 6-10, 285-pound Lang, who was drafted from high school by the New Orleans Hornets in 2003, saw his most extensive regular season action in Chicago and recorded seven points, four rebounds and three blocks in 20 minutes.

UP NEXT Wednesday vs. Nuggets7 p.m. NewsChannel 8, Comcast SportsNet Plus, WTEM-980 Friday vs. Heat7 p.m. Comcast SportsNet, WTEM-980

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