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Lofty praise from arguably the best point guard in the game, but McGee sets his sights a little higher than playing on par with the Orlando Magic’s star center.

“It’s a compliment, but he said ‘like’ Dwight Howard,” McGee says. “Hopefully, I can work hard and be better than him.”

Achieving Howard-like status is within McGee’s reach, Haywood says.

“The most important thing for JaVale right now is probably the weight room because he has such physical tools as far as speed and jumping ability,” he says. “All he has to do is add the strength in, and then he turns into a Dwight Howard.”

Howard is becoming a McGee fan, too.

“I’ve been watching him a lot,” the center said Saturday. “I think he’s going to be a good big man in the future. He runs the floor real well. [He’s] active. He’s going to learn the game, and he’s got the right coaching staff and some great players around him. The Wizards are going to be a great team when he learns how to play the NBA game.”

McGee is proving himself a fast learner. During an 0-5 start, coach Eddie Jordan pointed out that the rookie and backup guards Juan Dixon and Nick Young were the team’s most consistent contributors.

“He has made his presence felt here and there,” Jordan said last week of McGee, who is averaging 7.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and a block in 17.3 minutes. “You almost wonder. We’re probably going to make a decision to just play him to get some experience and take some lumps.”

And there have been lumps. In a loss to Milwaukee, McGee went after a pass to center Andrew Bogut but in his overaggression left the basket unguarded. Bogut snagged the ball and scored the points that sent the game to overtime.

Two nights later, he caught two alley-oop lobs and missed both dunks because he had too much height and was trying - as he later admitted - to pull off too fancy a dunk. There have been frequent goaltending calls, and at times he finds himself out of place, scrambling to catch up to his assignment on pick-and-rolls.

But the Wizards can live with his faults because they came as a result of effort - not a lack of trying.

“It’ll come, but he’s got to slow down in his mind. Then you can think better, and you won’t make as many mistakes” guard Gilbert Arenas says. “He’s doing a good job now, but if we can take everything he’s doing and get him to do that, then he’ll be able to be dominant.”

Despite chances to earn more playing time and the expectations that teammates, opponents and fans are beginning to heap on his shoulders, McGee insists he feels no pressure.

“I was just taught to never fear anyone,” he says. “And I guess it just hasn’t hit me that I’m in the NBA yet. I just feel like I’m playing any other game. Just trying to get rebounds, trying to get blocks, try to score some points. It just hasn’t really hit me.”

Still? Not after a full preseason and five games? And not with the paycheck?

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