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Thomas, Haywood Likely to Sit Out
Wizards Set to Start Booth at Center

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Washington Wizards are preparing to play without injured centers Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood at least through tomorrow night's game against the Denver Nuggets at Verizon Center.

Thomas, who sprained his left ankle during the fourth quarter of Saturday night's loss to the Houston Rockets, and Haywood, who left the game in the second quarter with a bruised thigh, did not practice yesterday.

Thomas's injury appears to be the most serious and he is expected to be out at least through Friday's home game against the Miami Heat. The Wizards open a four-game road trip at the Los Angeles Lakers Sunday night.

"He's doubtful probably the next two games," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "And then we'll evaluate him at the end of the week. We leave Saturday for the West Coast, so we'll know more Saturday."

If Haywood is ready, he'll start against Denver. If not, Jordan said veteran Calvin Booth will make his first start of the season and James Lang could see action as a backup. The Wizards are already missing two other center options, Michael Ruffin, who is out with a sprained right foot, and Darius Songaila, who is out with a back injury. Ruffin has not played since the Nov. 21 at Dallas but was able to go through some drills yesterday at practice and could return soon. No date has been set for Songaila's return.

"It's day to day," Haywood said of his thigh, which was injured during a collision with Houston center Yao Ming. "I still have a lot of swelling in there. Hopefully it will be gone by Wednesday. If it's gone, I'll play. If not, I'll sit out."

Now the Wizards look wise for keeping Booth and Lang coming out of the preseason. At the time it appeared that the roster was overloaded with big men, but the rash of injuries has created an opportunity for Booth and Lang, who have combined to play 53 minutes this season.

Jordan said he doesn't remember coaching or playing on a team that was hit with so many injuries at one position, but having Booth and Lang -- along with the team's ability to play with a smaller lineup -- should make the situation more bearable.

"With everybody healthy it makes us better, but we formed a roster that could absorb some of this," Jordan said. "We have mid-size guys that can play some guard, we have guards that can play some small forward and the offense is set so the forwards and guards know what one another can do and will do, so they are all interchangeable. The system fits and the roster fits for injuries throughout an NBA season."

The loss of Thomas and/or Haywood could affect Washington's defense more than anything. The two have combined to block 62 shots and have pleased Jordan with their energy and physical presence in the low post.

Apart from Saturday's 114-109 loss -- when Yao dominated the lane on his way to 38 points, 11 rebounds and 6blocked shots -- teams have experienced their greatest success against the Wizards on the perimeter. Opponents have made 160 of 401 three-point attempts (39.9 percent), which would be the equivalent of 59.8 percent shooting from two-point range.

The good news for the Wizards is that Denver plays an up-tempo game and relies on forward Carmelo Anthony to handle the bulk of its post scoring. And Miami's Shaquille O'Neal will not play Friday night because he's still recovering from Nov. 19 knee surgery and isn't expected to return until early January.

"It's a weird situation with Darius out, Mike out and Brendan and Etan going down in the same game; but I've been in the league for eight years now and I've never gone through a season when a guy didn't get a chance," Booth said. "This is my chance and I'm going to try and do something with it."

Wizards Notes: Guard Gilbert Arenas was named the Eastern Conference player of the week. Arenas averaged 37.3 points, 5.5 assists and shot 51.5 percent from the field as the Wizards went 3-1 on the week. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson and Arenas are the only players in the last 20 years to score at least 40 points four times in the first 20 games of a season.

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

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