As Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan added a few twists to his Princeton offense during the morning shoot-around Wednesday in preparation for the first of two preseason games against the Detroit Pistons, projected starting forward Kwame Brown was off on the sideline, doing stretching exercises on his surgically repaired right pinkie toe.
Starting point guard Gilbert Arenas watched from a folding chair in low-top sneakers that crept up just below his sore right ankle.
Reserve big man Etan Thomas, recovering from his abdominal strain, sat nearby in street clothes, and backup point guard Steve Blake was back home in Washington for treatment on his surgically repaired ankle.
The Wizards got a bit of a boost in Wednesday night's 92-83 win over the Pistons at Van Andel Arena with the return of Larry Hughes, who had missed the past week of action with tendinitis in his left knee, but they were by no means at full strength against the defending champions -- especially after Anthony Peeler added his name to the list of the walking (limping?) wounded when he was forced to miss the game because of recent dental surgery.
"It's like we're snakebitten. We went through it last year," said center Brendan Haywood, referring to a season in which the Wizards lost 224 games to injury. "It seems like, for some reason, we can't get past the injury bug."
Despite being short-handed, the Wizards had seven players score in double figures and improved to 2-2 in the preseason. Antawn Jamison, Hughes, Jared Jeffries, Jarvis Hayes, Laron Profit and Billy Thomas each scored 11 points and Juan Dixon had 10. Michael Ruffin had nine rebounds and two blocks in a reserve role.
"The second unit came in and hunkered down defensively," Jordan said about his team, which forced the Pistons into 27 turnovers and held them to just 13 points in the second quarter.
While Arenas and Peeler are expected to return in the next few days, Thomas's return date is unknown, and both Brown and Blake are expected back before the end of November. Although some key pieces are missing, Jordan isn't going to limit his offense because he has just 12 healthy players, some who have just a slim chance of making the opening day roster.
"It's part of life," Jordan said. "You can't dwell on it. You can't penalize the guys that are here. We have to keep moving along. We have a schedule and a plan, from training camp to the first game of season, what to put in and when. We are following the plan."
Jordan doesn't foresee any problem welcoming his injured players back into the fold. "It's a matter of timing and rhythm and endurance," Jordan said. "They may have a brain freeze at some time -- everybody does -- but they've been there."
Arenas said that since most of the missing players worked under the system last season -- Peeler ran a similar offense in Sacramento -- the adjustment shouldn't be difficult when they return. "We know the path and what's ahead of us," said Arenas, who missed Wednesday's game after spraining his ankle in a collision with Hayes during an Oct. 14 win over the Charlotte Bobcats. "Some of us can't practice right now, but we're still here showing our support. We have the plays in our head and we know what's going on."
The excused absences have helped the newcomer Jamison get a grasp of the system and allowed Hayes to enjoy an enhanced role on offense. It also has given the coaching staff a better opportunity to evaluate Dixon and undrafted free agent Gerald Fitch at point guard, the rebounding tenacity of Ruffin and the shooting of training camp signee Billy Thomas.
"It's inevitable in this sport that people are going to get injured," Etan Thomas said. "But we have guys that can step in. That's what's good about our team. It does help because it gives other guys the chance to get more comfortable into the system. It gives guys a chance to get in there and get their feet wet a little bit."
"We don't have a full squad. Obviously, that's going to hinder any growth that we must have," said Hayes, who has used his opportunity to start in place of Brown and emerge as the team's leading scorer in the preseason. "We'll have to quicken the pace when all of us get together."
Wizards Note: The Pistons were playing without former Wizards Rasheed Wallace (sore back) and Ben Wallace (appendectomy). The two teams will meet again Friday at the Palace of Auburn Hills.