The Washington Wizards will begin the regular season next week without three starters after center Brendan Haywood and guard Larry Hughes were suspended Wednesday for their involvement in an altercation during a preseason game against the Chicago Bulls.
Haywood was suspended three games for fighting, Hughes received a one-game suspension for initiating the scuffle, and Antonio Davis and Eddy Curry of the Bulls received two-game suspensions for throwing punches. Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich was fined $10,000 for exchanging words with Hughes and shoving him.
Haywood received the stiffest punishment of any of the participants after Stu Jackson, the NBA vice president of basketball operations, determined he was most at fault for the escalation of the brawl, which occurred with 3 minutes 22 seconds left in the third quarter of Wizards' 100-95 loss Monday night in Chicago.
Hughes triggered the incident when he pushed Hinrich into Bulls forward Luol Deng while Deng was attempting a layup. After Hughes's hard foul, Haywood pushed Hinrich, hit Davis with an open-handed blow and later engaged in a wrestling match with Davis near center court. Hughes was penalized because Jackson said Hughes head-butted Hinrich.
"We accept the ruling handed down by the league, however we do feel it's heavy-handed," Wizards General Manager Ernie Grunfeld said in a statement. "We will have to step up and come together as we will be shorthanded for the first three games of the regular season."
Haywood and Hughes will be available for the Wizards' preseason finale against the Los Angeles Lakers tonight at Ford Center. But the Wizards will be without starters Haywood, Hughes and point guard Gilbert Arenas -- as well as reserve guard Anthony Peeler -- for the opener on Nov. 3 in Memphis, the inaugural game at FedEx Forum.
Arenas was suspended in August because he failed to maintain proper registration of a handgun in 2003 and Peeler will have to serve the second game of a two-game suspension he received for elbowing Kevin Garnett while playing for Sacramento during the Western Conference semifinals last summer.
Forward-center Kwame Brown (foot surgery) and reserve point guard Steve Blake (ankle surgery) will start the season on the injured list. The status of reserve forward-center Etan Thomas remains unknown after he strained an abdominal muscle during training camp. Coach Eddie Jordan will have only eight players against the Memphis Grizzlies.
"Only got a few bodies available" for the opener, Jordan said when contacted by phone Wednesday night. "With the injuries and the suspensions, we'll have to do the best we can."
Haywood's suspension means he also will miss the Wizards' second game against the Charlotte Bobcats on Nov. 4 and their home opener two nights later against Shaquille O'Neal and the Miami Heat. Haywood wasn't available to comment Wednesday, but the day before he said: "Sometimes when you're playing, your testosterone's going and you don't think before you act. . . . Everybody that knows me know that I'm not that type of person, but -- it happened."
Reserve forward Michael Ruffin was the only Wizards player ejected from the game but he didn't receive any further disciplinary action. Official Bennett Salvatore admitted that they kicked out the wrong player, and Jackson felt Ruffin, who tried to separate Davis from Haywood, was more peacemaker than instigator.
Hughes said Tuesday that he didn't expect any carryover when the Bulls and Wizards meet for the first time on Dec. 4 at MCI Center. "It'll stay competitive basketball," Hughes said. "We handled those guys last year and we plan on handling those guys this year. We'll keep it clean and keep it on the court."
Wizards Note: Tulsa native Thomas joined the team in Oklahoma on Wednesday. He stayed in Washington while the Wizards were in Chicago.