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Rookie Center JaVale McGee Coming Up Big for Wizards

Center JaVale McGee had 13 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots against Utah on Wednesday.
Center JaVale McGee had 13 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots against Utah on Wednesday. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 14, 2008

Eddie Jordan got a little caught up in the moment during the final seconds of Wednesday's 95-87 victory over the Utah Jazz. The Wizards' coach, who is typically restrained once a game is in the bag, raised his arms and exhorted the Verizon Center crowd to applaud the effort of center JaVale McGee when the rookie left the game with 19.7 seconds to play.

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"I knew the crowd appreciated JaVale," Jordan said. "He was certainly one of the biggest keys of the game, if not the biggest key, but other guys made plays, other guys made shots and stops. But yeah, it was sort of me wearing my emotions on my sleeve a little bit. I got a little overboard with it."

Jordan can be forgiven for his exuberance. After watching the Wizards stumble to an 0-5 start, the 7-foot McGee and his 7-6 wingspan are exactly what the coach has been looking for since Brendan Haywood was lost for four to six months after injuring his wrist during the preseason.

Suddenly, the hole in the Wizards' defense isn't as large, and given McGee's skills as a shot-blocker, weak-side defender and offensive rebounder, Jordan's front-court options are much larger.

Despite McGee's breakout 13-point, 11-rebound, 3-block effort, Jordan said he expects to continue starting Etan Thomas at center because he likes the veteran presence Thomas brings.

Still, when the Wizards go for their second win of the season tonight in Miami, fans can anticipate seeing Jordan utilize a few large lineups. For one thing, the Heat often plays with 6-8 Udonis Haslem, a natural power forward, at center, and 6-9 rookie Michael Beasley at power forward.

Miami had huge problems up front during Wednesday night's 104-96 home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers and their front-line rotation of 7-1 Joel Przybilla, 6-11 LaMarcus Aldridge, 6-11 Channing Frye and 7-foot rookie Greg Oden.

During the second quarter of Washington's win over Utah, Jordan briefly experimented with a lineup that included McGee at center, 6-11 Andray Blatche at power forward, 6-9 Antawn Jamison at small forward, 6-7 Caron Butler at shooting guard and 6-5 DeShawn Stevenson at point guard.

"We'll go with what was good for us [Wednesday], we'll go sort of big, and our bigs can be athletic," Jordan said. "I think JaVale's a little bit athletic. Andray, if he really puts his nose to the grindstone, can be athletic, Antawn at the 3 can be good. We had Caron at the 2 in a pinch and D-Steve play some point, so we can certainly play small or big just as long as we keep the harmony and the rhythm and the chemistry we are trying to develop."

Butler has mostly played small forward as a Wizard -- he's a two-time all-star at that position -- but he's open to the idea of moving to shooting guard, where he can post up smaller defenders and use his quickness and instincts for diving into passing lanes for steals.

The defensive part of the job is much easier when Butler knows McGee and Blatche are behind him protecting the basket. Against Utah, the Wizards held a 42-37 rebounding edge and blocked 10 shots after blocking 19 shots in the first five games combined.

Much of that was attributed to the bigger lineups employed by Jordan.

"We can get a lot of mismatches with that look," Butler said. "That's a big lineup. And with JaVale back there covering the basket, it's like it was with Brendan back there. Without him, you really can't gamble as much because I'm kind of scared that if I go for that steal and don't get it, will someone be back there protecting the rim? So it's a look that can work for us."

Wizards Notes: Washington swept the season series with Miami, 4-0, last season after losing 15 of the previous 16 regular season contests against the Southeast Division rival. . . .

Juan Dixon said he and his teammates are still figuring out just how high they can toss alley-oop passes to McGee, who along with his freakish wingspan, has tremendous leaping ability.

"I threw one a little short [against Utah] but man, that kid is always coming and slipping to the rim," Dixon said. "He's really figuring it out. Once he learns the game on that low block and bulks up a little bit, I see no reason why he can't be like [Orlando Magic all-star] Dwight Howard."


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