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With Solid Play, Haywood Is Center of Attention

Wizards center Brendan Haywood gets off a shot over Cleveland's Zydrunas Ilgauskas in Game 3. Haywood is averaging 13 points and 6.3 rebounds in the first-round series. Game 4 is today at Verizon Center.
Wizards center Brendan Haywood gets off a shot over Cleveland's Zydrunas Ilgauskas in Game 3. Haywood is averaging 13 points and 6.3 rebounds in the first-round series. Game 4 is today at Verizon Center. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
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The Wizards led by 17 points early in the third quarter Thursday night when Haywood received a pass in the post where he was defended tightly by the 7-foot-3 Ilgauskas. Instead of fading away from contact by attempting a jump hook or some other finesse move, Haywood spun and aggressively leaned into Ilgauskas, drawing a foul.

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Haywood calmly stepped to the free throw line and drained both shots to keep the Wizards rolling.

"When you think something good is going to happen at the free throw line, you definitely play more aggressive," Haywood said. "I know I look for more contact now because I feel confident that when I go up there, I'm going to hit two."

Perhaps the most surprising development in this series is the way Haywood is suddenly being perceived as an enforcer.

His hard foul on LeBron James in Game 2 -- Haywood was assessed a flagrant 2 foul and ejected from the game -- and physical overall play have made him a villain in Cleveland but no doubt pleasantly surprised Wizards fans who have been critical of him for playing soft in the past.

"I don't really feed into that," Haywood said. "The way people view you changes with the wind. I know what kind of person I am, and I know that I'm not some kind of tough guy going out there to hurt people. It's funny how one foul can change the complexion of how people view you. Now, I'm just some guy running around fouling people hard, but that's not what I'm about. I don't even think that's good basketball."

Jordan appreciates Haywood's aggressive approach and credits him with helping the Wizards drastically improve at the defensive end of the court this season. After giving up 104.9 points per game last season, the Wizards allowed 99.2 points this season.

"He sustained his efforts and he's sustained his effectiveness as opposed to the last few years when he would play, I thought, really well early in the season and then become more spotty as the season went along," Jordan said. "He's been very consistent, probably been our most consistent player, and our success has been based on a lot of what our two best defenders have done. DeShawn [Stevenson] and Brendan have given a great defensive effort for us."

Jordan has always been impressed with Haywood's high basketball IQ and thinks that it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility for Haywood to become an effective coach someday.

"Coach Haywood?" Jordan asked. "You never know how coaches come out, man. I mean, Rod Strickland is a coach somewhere. I love Rod, but I never thought he'd be a coach. Coaches tend to pop out from anywhere so why not?"


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