- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tuesday’s game at the Dallas Mavericks is only a preseason matchup, but it presents the Washington Wizards with a key opportunity on a number of fronts.

But as much as it can help younger players and develop team chemistry, it means a lot more to veteran center Etan Thomas.

After missing all of last season while recovering from heart surgery, Thomas will take the court for an actual game for the first time in 17 months. And with starting center Brendan Haywood out for at least a week with a sprained right wrist, there’s a good chance Thomas will get the start.

“I think it’s going to be great, just getting my timing back and playing in an actual game,” Thomas said. “I feel good. I’m working hard, and they have a few new wrinkles they have in some of the plays, so I’m trying to get that down pat. So I’m working hard, playing hard. That’s what I bring to the table.”

After being cleared for full contact in June, Thomas spent much of the summer playing pickup games and training with former Maryland and NBA player Tony Massenburg to regain the skills that had deteriorated because of a year away from the game.

“I had to start all over - start from scratch and work on everything,” said Thomas, who is entering his seventh season in Washington. “I did a lot of defensive rebounding drills over the summer. It was a lot of work. You kinda have to get that back. When you haven’t played in a while, you get kind of stuck to the floor. So a lot of quick-feet drills and moving around. I worked on my low-post moves, jumpers, running. Everything.”

Thomas’ first two practices of training camp - Sept. 27 and 28 - presented a bit of a challenge to Thomas because of all the running, but he quickly regained his stride and posted a strong camp.

On the floor, he looked fresh, explosive, powerful and comfortable. He has been running the floor well, has regained his touch on midrange jumpers and hook shots and can dunk effortlessly.

“I don’t see him thinking at all,” Caron Butler said. “He may be thinking, but you don’t see it. His foot movement looks great. His speed is great. He’s playing physical, giving us a lot of energy and going up and contesting all the shots.”

Although Thomas has worked with the starters since Haywood’s injury Thursday, coach Eddie Jordan said he had yet to decide whether Thomas or Andray Blatche would start against the Mavericks. Thomas definitely will see significant time, however.

“It’s a great thing because he’s really competing,” Jordan said of having Thomas back. “Very physical. Brendan is out now, so it gives us another veteran, solid guy. Andray’s a veteran too, but Etan has certainly been through the wars more so than [Blatche] has at the center position, so we’ll have a great, balanced roster.”

Notes - The Wizards held another spirited intrasquad scrimmage at the end of Monday’s practice, and Jordan joked that he again tried everything he could to get his starters a win over the “next guys” but failed. The starting group was playing without DeShawn Stevenson, Juan Dixon and Haywood.

Stevenson sat out Monday’s practice for rest, Dixon watched the latter portions of the session with a calf injury and Nick Young watched with a sore knee. But none of the injuries concerned Jordan.

“It’s been a hard camp,” Jordan said. “Very physical, very intense. You sort of expect some guys to take a beating.” …

The Wizards didn’t particularly game-plan for the Mavericks, who have a new coach in Rick Carlisle. Instead, Jordan and his staff have stressed execution on defense and offense.

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