A day after helping Washington defeat the Toronto Raptors--the Wizards' first victory in eight games--point guard Rod Strickland was sent home from practice yesterday after complaining of discomfort in his legs and back.

Backup point guard Chris Whitney worked with the first team during practice and could start tonight against the Los Angeles Clippers at MCI Center. Coach Gar Heard said that he would decide who will start after this morning's shoot-around, and that Strickland's physical condition would be one, but not necessarily the only, determining factor.

"I'll talk with him [today] and make a decision then," Heard said. "I'm not going to prejudge him now. . . . I'm not going to make a big issue out of it. My thing is, whoever's there is going to play. We're going to play the right way, and if we lose then we'll have to deal with it."

It is the second time this week that illness or injury has kept Strickland from practicing after playing in games the night before. On Wednesday, after playing 30 minutes in a 95-73 loss to Philadelphia, Strickland complained of stomach pains and watched practice from the sideline after being examined by a doctor.

Strickland did not receive treatment before practice yesterday, which is standard team policy if a player is hurt or ill, Heard said. Instead of having Strickland receive treatment, Heard said he told Strickland to go home and rest.

"As part of this team, if you're hurt, you come in and get treated," Heard said. "We had guys come in and get treated for their injuries."

Strickland was unavailable to comment.

With the main reason for his team's 2-7 start being blamed on the starting lineup's inability to practice together, mainly due to injuries, Heard said he was disappointed that Strickland was unable to practice, especially since the Wizards were coming off a victory.

Though Strickland had just six points and five assists in Washington's 92-81 victory over Toronto, Strickland arguably played one of his better games. He aggressively pushed the ball up court and played a major role in getting the ball to Washington's low-post players, who dominated.

Strickland also played one of, if not his best, defensive games of the season. He played just 29 minutes, though, his third fewest of the season.

Wizards management would not acknowledge any peculiar pattern in Strickland's inability to practice this week because he had medical excuses.

It also declined to speculate that Strickland's inability to practice was a tactic to force a trade since there is mild friction between Strickland and Heard, according to a team source.

Heard has benched Strickland twice and fined him once for either missing or being late to practices. Strickland also has been afforded several excused absences including one to attend a funeral. The team also excused him from two practices and two preseason games while he was on trial for drunk driving charges for which he was acquitted. Heard also has questioned Strickland's effort in practices.

Said Heard: "I'm not going to butt heads with him. I'm not going to butt heads with anybody. [Team owner] Abe Pollin hired me here to get this team winning and get this team turned around. I'm going to do whatever it takes to turn this around. I'm not here to win a popularity contest. I'm here to win games."

General Manager Wes Unseld declined to comment on whether he has been in contact with other teams about Strickland's availability. It is believed that no talks regarding Strickland have taken place.

Should the Wizards decide to trade Strickland, the New York Knicks are believed to be interested because of their desire to upgrade at point guard and because of Coach Jeff Van Gundy's affinity for Strickland, a New York native who once played for the Knicks.

Strickland's agent, David Falk, declined to answer questions on whether Strickland was seeking a trade and, through a spokesperson, said that Strickland's main objective is to help the Wizards win.

Wizards players declined to comment about Strickland's inability to practice. Instead they would only discuss the positive feeling generated by the much-needed victory Thursday night.

"It was a long time since that win in the first game and today practice was spirited," Whitney said. "Everybody was focused and that was a good sign."

Wizards Notes: Veteran shooting guard Mitch Richmond, who will come off the bench tonight behind rookie Richard Hamilton for the second straight game, underwent acupuncture treatments for his ailing left knee.

Richmond has been slowed by tendinitis and a calcium deposit. Richmond said he opted for acupuncture because he tried it years ago and it had some effect in relieving discomfort for an injury he could not recall.

CAPTION: Wizards' Rod Strickland complained of leg, back pain before being sent home.