Etan Thomas snatched a pass from Antonio Daniels, wheeled his 6-foot-10, 260-pound body around to face the basket and threw down a vicious one-handed dunk.

The first-quarter jam was one of the highlights in the Wizards' 95-91 victory over San Antonio on Thursday night, but what happened next really stood out.


With the basket support still shaking, Thomas jogged back down the court and prepared to play defense as he has a thousand times in his basketball career. The reason is that Thomas has been pain free since the opening of training camp and says he has experienced no serious discomfort from the abdominal strain that forced him to miss 32 games at the start of last season.

Thomas returned in January and helped the Wizards with their playoff push but re-aggravated the injury during Game 2 of the team's second-round playoff series against Miami and required a full offseason to recover.

"It's fine now," said Thomas, who was recently named one of the team's captains along with guard Gilbert Arenas and forward Antawn Jamison. "I had to do a lot of maintenance work, just getting my strength back in the abdominal area, and I still do a lot of stretching and strength work but it hasn't been a problem."

Asked to assess the pain associated with the injury on scale of 1 to 10, Thomas didn't hesitate.

"It was a 10," said Thomas, who was doubled over in agony as he was helped off the court in Miami on May 10. "It was bad."

To recover, Thomas worked closely with Washington Capitals head athletic trainer Greg Smith. Abdominal strains and groin injuries are common among hockey players, and Smith's expertise helped Thomas design a regimen for getting back.

Thomas continues to do daily stretching work and he places an emphasis on warming up thoroughly before attempting plays like the dunk against San Antonio.

Thomas played 15 minutes against the Spurs, finishing with four points, four rebounds and two blocks.

Coach Eddie Jordan is hopeful that Thomas, along with veteran Calvin Booth and starter Brendan Haywood, will give the team three healthy, experienced centers for the first time in his three seasons as coach.

"It's good to see him out there explosive, aggressive, healthy and banging," Jordan said. "Way in the back of your mind, you say, 'When is he going to pull up?' Actually, I shouldn't say that because I don't think about it until someone brings it up. But to see that force out there, it's just a good thing."

Jordan is hoping to see the Thomas who averaged career highs of 8.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game during the 2003-2004 season. While the Wizards beefed up the back court and wing positions by adding Daniels, Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins this offseason, the team will need some scoring and much of its rebounding out of the post.

If the Wizards are going to successfully bang with the big bodies that play throughout the Eastern Conference, particularly the biggest body of them all -- Miami's Shaquille O'Neal -- they are going to need all the size and strength they can find.

"We have a good group of guys up front," Thomas said. "It's a nice mix. We all bring something different to the table and we're going to need that because it's a long season."

Wizards Notes: Jordan said guard Jarvis Hayes, who had a strong game Thursday, will not play against Memphis because of soreness in his knee. Also, Arenas will miss his second straight game. Arenas said he has been bothered by groin and hamstring soreness but plans to play Tuesday night against the Lakers in Bakersfield, Calif. Arenas is from the Los Angeles area. . . .

Forward Jared Jeffries (groin strain) practiced Friday but may also miss his second straight game. Daniels rolled his left ankle during practice Friday and will be evaluated today. . . .

The Wizards should be facing a tired opponent Saturday night. The Grizzlies played Miami in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Friday night and were expected to arrive back in Memphis around 4 a.m. Saturday. . . .

The start time of the Wizards' Nov. 11 home game against Seattle has been moved to 7:30 p.m.