- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2002

In recent days, the play of Juan Dixon has been one of the few positives for the Washington Wizards.
But yesterday the Wizards found out they will be without Dixon for at least three weeks after he sprained his left elbow in practice.
The Wizards placed Dixon on the injured list, where he must remain for at least five games. They activated forward Brian Cardinal, acquired in the offseason from Detroit in the Richard Hamilton-Jerry Stackhouse trade.
Cardinal is not expected to provide much help for the Wizards, losers of six straight.
"It seems like in this business when things are going badly they just pile on top of you," Wizards coach Doug Collins said. "Not only have we lost six games, but now all of a sudden Juan is going to be out. He's had two terrific games here at home for us over the last week. So that's going to be a big loss for us."
Collins isn't exaggerating. All season long he has been looking for a young player to step up and become a contributor. At first it looked as if power forward Kwame Brown was going to fill that role. But after the first three games, Brown has cooled considerably and is now playing with the same type of inconsistency that plagued him last season.
Although he has played decently in recent games, Brendan Haywood also has been inconsistent. Etan Thomas missed all of training camp with hamstring troubles, and rookie Jared Jeffries is still green.
Dixon, who had been used sporadically, recently has become a firestarter for the struggling Wizards, who will try to end their six-game losing streak tonight when they play host to the Milwaukee Bucks at MCI Center. In a one-point loss to Philadelphia on Saturday, Dixon posted career highs in points (18) and minutes (29).
Two games before that, Dixon scored 15 points and collected a career-high six steals as the Wizards fell to Indiana 88-84.
Dixon is averaging 6.1 points and 1.4 rebounds this season. He was unavailable for comment yesterday, but after the Philadelphia game he said he felt he could continue to contribute whenever the Wizards called on him.
"I'm starting to know my role better," said Dixon, who was drafted No. 17 overall. "I'm starting to become more and more comfortable at both ends. I've just got to stay patient and try to do what I can to help us get back to winning."
Michael Jordan, inserted in the starting lineup against Philadelphia for the first time since Feb. 24 of last season, agreed with Collins that losing Dixon was a blow.
"He was playing good. His progress was steadily improving," Jordan said. "It's a setback for some time, but we've just got to rally around each other and somehow make it work."
One thing the Wizards are not overly concerned about is working Jordan back into the starting lineup. The change sends Bryon Russell to the bench, a switch that Russell endorsed and should make the Wizards a better team from the start of the game.
No longer at issue are the number of minutes Jordan will play. Yesterday Jordan reiterated that his knees feel great, and he emphasized that the addition of Stackhouse will prevent the minutes he plays from being burdensome.
But Jordan emphasized that Dixon's loss will force some players to contribute more, particularly their young big men.
"Our big guys sooner or later are going to have to step up," Jordan said. "Somehow we're going to have to find someone who can step in and score."
One of those players Jordan was referring to was Thomas. Thomas' injury hampered his progress early in the season and kept him on the bench.
Recently, though, Thomas has been getting more playing time. All he says he can do now is be ready to contribute when his number is called.
"We don't get called on a lot, but when we do get called on we have to be ready to contribute," Thomas said. "You can be a presence in a lot of different ways besides scoring. You can rebound the ball, block shots. We've got guys like Michael and Jerry who can score. But we've got to go out there and do it. We can't just talk about it."


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