- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2001

When Michael Smith returns to the Washington Wizards today for the first time since he was suspended last week for his expletive-laced tirade at Golden State, he will begin the game in a place that has been somewhat unfamiliar lately the bench.

Christian Laettner will replace Smith, who has started 24 games for the Wizards (17-53) this season but has missed the last two games both blowout losses to Utah and Los Angeles in the lineup at power forward.

Smith was sent home midway through the team's recent West Coast road trip after he spent at least seven minutes cursing loudly at no one in particular last Wednesday. He said he can accept his punishment which could cost him $50,000 and is ready to put the events of the past week behind him.

"This is a new day for me. Whatever happened that day is in the past, and that's where it's going to stay," Smith said. "There's no need to keep on dwelling on my punishment. I've just got to come out here and play my game and practice hard. When they call on me to play, I just have to make sure that I'm ready to play. I'm just going to be the same Michael Smith."

Smith said whether he is in the starting lineup tonight against the Indiana Pacers is of little consequence.

"If I do [start], I do. If I don't, I don't," Smith said. "All I want to do is win. I just want that 'W' "

Said Wizards coach Leonard Hamilton: "I don't have a starting lineup etched in stone. Not when we've won just 17 games all year."

Yesterday Smith elaborated on his thoughts when he was pulled from the game in Golden State. Smith said he was not directing his curses at anyone. He was just venting about being pulled from a game he didn't want to leave.

"At that time I felt that things weren't going too well. It's something that I shouldn't have ever done out in public. I should have just resolved the problem and taken out my frustrations behind closed doors. You learn from your mistakes, and I've got to learn from this one. I just want to move on with it."

Smith said he was not happy with the fine which stripped him of two games pay imposed by the Wizards. The NBA, which had officials at the game in the Arena in Oakland, didn't plan to fine Smith for his actions. One source familiar with the incident said he believed the Wizards felt pressured to act quickly with a stern punishment to impress the league officials there. One official with the league said he did not think it was an offense worthy of the punishment. However, one Wizards official suggested just the opposite.

"It could have been a whole lot worse than what it is. I think Michael should consider himself lucky," the Wizards official said.

A bigger issue for tonight's matchup with Indiana will be the starter at point guard. Hubert Davis, who has been starting for the injured Chris Whitney (ankle), will miss tonight's game with a strained right hamstring. In his place the Wizards probably will start David Vanterpool, who yesterday signed a contract for the rest of the season after his second 10-day contract expired.

Whitney hasn't played since he sprained his left ankle March 3 against Utah. The Wizards also hoped to have shooting guard Mitch Richmond out since March 10 with a strained right knee back for tonight's game, but he will be held out again.

"It's almost like pot luck," Hamilton said about putting together a starting lineup against the Pacers (31-38), who are in a fight with Boston for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. "It's really, really difficult."

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