Washington Wizards center Brendan Haywood fought hard to keep the No. 33 this season, forcing newcomer Antawn Jamison to wear the No. 4 for the first time in his seven-year career. But last summer, Haywood was arguably the player most motivated by four.
It has nothing to do with the four times the Wizards will have to face the NBA's goliath, Shaquille O'Neal, and the Miami Heat. Or that this is his fourth year in the NBA and he will be eligible for free agency after the season. Haywood's focus has remained steadfast on playing in the fourth quarter, something that was rare last season.
"I didn't like the way the year ended with me not getting in in the fourth quarter," the 7-foot Haywood said. "I figure the only way to change that is to make sure the coaches would have to play me."
Haywood has logged more minutes at center for the Wizards than any other player the past three years but that number is lost on him, since most of those minutes -- especially last season -- rarely determined the outcome. Coach Eddie Jordan likes to talk of the NBA as a "man's game," which gets intensely physical in the final four minutes of the game. That was the time when Jordan often called on Etan Thomas to provide the muscle in the middle last season.
"That's where Etan had his strength," Jordan said. In other situations, depending on the matchups, Jordan would go with forwards Kwame Brown and Jared Jeffries. Either way, it was Haywood who had to watch others contribute in crunch time.
"It was certain games, where there were guys who played better than me. But there were a lot of games where I thought I was going well and Coach didn't have the confidence in me in the fourth quarter," Haywood said. "So, I realized in the offseason, that was something I was going to have to change. I was going to have to change the perception of my game. 'Cause in the end, I don't care about starting. I want to be in there when it counts."
Haywood worked on his post moves, hook shots, bank shots, keeping the ball high instead of putting it on the floor to dribble. He also hit the weights, trimmed away the love handles, and arrived in incredible shape. Haywood has always kept his weight between 260 pounds and 270. "I just want it to be a good 265," said Haywood, whose body fat is down to 9 percent. "I thought I had to come [to camp] in shape to let the coaches know that I put a commitment into improving."
"I see a huge improvement. His body is stronger. He's cut," Jordan said. "You can see confidence oozing out of him. He's playing bigger than he has in the past -- at least I think. He may say, 'I've been playing like this all the time.' But he's shown to be more consistent at playing bigger."
Haywood has battled with inconsistency since he arrived in Washington. Coupled with his joking nature off the court, Haywood felt he often wasn't taken seriously. But Jamison, who teamed with Haywood in college at North Carolina, said he has noticed a more mature player this season.
"He's starting to come into his own as a basketball player," Jamison said. "We really need him to contain the paint."
After having 17 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks in the preseason opener against the Indiana Pacers on Monday night, Haywood walked out of the showers and guard Larry Hughes greeted him in the locker room with, "Wassup, Shaq!" Haywood smiled, thinking for a brief moment that Hughes was complimenting him on his game. Then Hughes handed Haywood the stat sheet from the game and pointed. "Make your free throws," Hughes told Haywood, who missed 8 of 11 attempts from the line.
Haywood has shot 60.9 percent from the line over his career. "I'm going to have to learn to shoot free throws a little better," he acknowledged.
Wizards Notes: The Wizards held an 18-point first half lead but lost to the Philadelphia 76ers, 114-107, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., on Tuesday. Jarvis Hayes led four Wizards in double figures with 23 points on 10-for-19 shooting as the Wizards dropped to 0-2 in the preseason.
Haywood wasn't on the court in the fourth period -- when the Wizards were outscored 42-24 -- but most of the team's starters were done playing by then, too. Haywood finished with six points, five rebounds and two blocks in 22 minutes. . . .
The Wizards will have an open scrimmage on Oct. 18 at 1 p.m. at MCI Center. Admission is free.