Friday, November 9, 2001

Something different came out of Christian Laettner during the Washington Wizards’ loss to the Boston Celtics on Wednesday. Laettner curled himself into a crab, glowered at his teammates, and, most surprising of all, did not disappear with a game on the line. Instead, he had his best effort of the season.
“Christian is a very interesting guy,” coach Doug Collins said yesterday following practice. “I’ve known him a long time. And I think I know him well enough to where I sort of know what buttons to push at the right time with him. He needs somebody sometimes to give him that accountability. And I think he responds well to it.”
Laettner had been one of the big questions of the early season. He was lauded in training camp for being a mentor to younger players like Kwame Brown and Brendan Haywood, but he looked overly cautious on the court.
That carried over into the regular season. In the first four games, Laettner made 10 of 36 shots, and his highs in points (10) and rebounds (eight) were not indicative of a player who had just signed a four-year, $21 million deal.
But on Wednesday, in a game where Boston’s Antoine Walker had 31 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists and where Michael Jordan scored 32 and shut down Boston’s Paul Pierce in the second half, Laettner was very, very good. He finished with 29 points on 13 of 17 shooting, grabbed six rebounds, handed out three assists and blocked a shot.
The difference?
“When Christian is involved in the game emotionally, he really is a good player for us,” Collins said.
Give Collins credit for recognizing that Laettner was hedging offensively. Both he and the player recognized that flaw and hope the problem is corrected.
“Against Boston, I was not hesitating and the ball was just coming out of my hand real good. Hopefully, I can do it again,” Laettner said. “But more than anything, it was [a case of] just hanging in there, not getting too down on yourself. We were passing the ball around, and I was getting it in rhythm. That gives you a better chance of making your shot.”
Tonight against Golden State at MCI Center, Laettner will move back to power forward and Jahidi White, who did not play at all against Boston, will start against the Warriors, who have one of the NBA’s more physical front lines.
“I think you’re going to see us do a lot of that this year,” Collins said. “There are going to be games where we shuffle the deck a little bit to get the best matchups we can. We did that in New York [bringing starting point guard Chris Whitney] off the bench. It’s something that we’re going to do often when it suits the situation.”
Jordan doesn’t particularly care how the lineup is shuffled because he has confidence in his handpicked coach. And he isn’t overly concerned where Laettner plays. However, he would very much like to see the kid of game Laettner had against the Celtics become the norm, not the exception.
“It gives us a big edge,” Collins said. “It gives us a big push at the four. He’s a veteran, a leader. Whatever we can get from him so that he becomes a threat makes us better as a basketball team. And that takes the weight off of me.”
Notes Top pick Brown will play tonight for the first time since spraining his right ankle in the season opener against New York. Brown practiced yesterday with a brace. … Backup center Etan Thomas is questionable for tonight’s game because of a sinus infection.

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