- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

MEMPHIS, Tenn. | Wizards coach Ed Tapscott heard a knock at his hotel door Wednesday afternoon.

He thought it was the bellboy coming to get his bags. As he opened the door, prepared to instruct the person on the other end that he wasn’t ready, he discovered it was center Brendan Haywood.

Hawyood told Tapscott he wanted to play in Wednesday night’s game at Memphis. Considering Haywood has been out all season after undergoing wrist surgery in training camp, only one thing popped in Tapscott’s mind.

“The first thing I asked him was ‘This isn’t an April Fools’ joke, is it?’ ” Tapscott said. “I was delighted. He said, ‘No.’ ”

It was no joke. Haywood came off the bench and played 24 minutes in the Wizards’ 112-107 loss to the Grizzlies.

Not only did Haywood play, but he also was a key figure defensively in the Wizards’ failed comeback attempt. The Grizzlies led 88-73 heading into the fourth quarter, as rookie center Marc Gasol had his way in the middle with 18 points.

With Haywood playing the entire fourth quarter, Gasol never scored again.

“His offensive timing is not there like we expect it to be,” Tapscott said. “He missed a few shots that he would easily convert in most cases. But defensively, his presence and his knowledge makes an impact for us right away. There’s a confidence factor. Guys go in the game, they know [Haywood] got his back.”

Meanwhile, the Wizards managed to tied the game at 105-105 with 1:23 to play. After a Grizzlies turnover, they had a chance to take the lead. But Haywood was called for basket interference on Caron Butler’s layup attempt with 1:04 to go. The Grizzlies regained the lead on a pair of free throws from Mike Conley with 24 seconds to go. But Butler missed a jumper with 11 seconds left.

“It was one of those plays where when I first took off, it looked like it was about to rim off,” Haywood said. “I jumped because I thought it was going to come off perfect, and it ended up rolling in. From where I jumped, I couldn’t stop myself. I just tipped it. It was a mistake. It probably hurt us down the stretch.”

Trailing 110-107 with three seconds left, the Wizards had one final chance to tie the game, but Conley stole Javaris Crittenton’s inbounds pass.

Nevertheless, the Wizards were happy to have their big man back patrolling the middle.

“It’s a luxury that we definitely have been missing all year,” said Antawn Jamison, who had 28 and 10 rebounds. “Just his presence in the paint on both ends of the floor means a lot. He’s somebody who normally tells me what to do, so it was good to have a very important, familiar face out there.”

Haywood finished with two points and two rebounds. His timing was clearly off offensively, but he more than made his presence known on the defensive end, blocking three shots.

After playing in his first game since last season, Haywood said he will have to see how he feels Thursday before deciding if he will play that night against Cleveland.

“It’s day-by-day,” he said. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet. I’m going to talk some things over.”

The Wizards do expect to have guard Gilbert Arenas, who did not play at Memphis, back Thursday.

“We said we would try to stay away from any back-to-back situations,” Tapscott said. “If we have a back-to-back like this, considering who he is, I think we owe it to our fans to let them see him if he’s going to go in a back-to-back.”

Caron Butler led all scorers Wednesday night with 31 points. Nick Young had 16, and Crittenton added 13 points and 11 rebounds.

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