- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 28, 2002

To fans who rise from their MCI Center seats howling, "We want Juan!" Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins has this message: "We didn't bring Juan here for him to be a victory cigar."

The Wizards, who are on a four-game losing streak, haven't been firing up any cigars lately. However, they came close to doing so Tuesday against Indiana, arguably the best team in the Eastern Conference. And had they come all the way back from a 19-point third-quarter deficit before losing 88-84, no one would have been more responsible than Dixon.

The rookie from Maryland, who usually gets his minutes at the end of the first half and garbage time at the end of blowouts, played a season-high 24 minutes against the Pacers because starting point guard Larry Hughes was out with a wrist injury and backup Tyronn Lue was 1-for-9 from the field. Dixon responded with his best game as a pro, producing career highs in points (15) and steals (six, all in the fourth quarter).

Perhaps out of frustration with the way the Wizards (6-8) have been playing lately, Collins mixed and matched lineups against the Pacers more than at any time this season. He found something when he put Dixon on the court with little-used center Etan Thomas, rookie Jared Jeffries, Michael Jordan (who finished with a season-high 28 points) and Jerry Stackhouse.

And even though the Wizards failed to end their skid, no one in the organization failed to notice the impact provided by Dixon, whom drafted with the 17th pick.

"He did a good job. I think he caught them off guard because they hadn't seen him," Jordan said of Dixon, who before Tuesday had played just 36 minutes all season. "He came in, and he kept his poise. Toward the end of the game, he went back to his Maryland days where he would score and became very aggressive at the position. And when he didn't feel like he had it, he moved the ball. That is a point guard's mentality.

"He's going to continue to grow and get better," Jordan continued. "He's a smart player. He knows how to play."

Collins knows that Dixon's situation is different from that of any other young player on the roster. Granted, Kwame Brown was the top pick in the draft last year and Jeffries was selected six slots ahead of Dixon this year. But it is Dixon who led Maryland to its first men's basketball championship last spring, and he is the only player for whom Wizards fans chant in every home game.

"It was sweet at the Boston game," Dixon said of the home opener, a 45-point rout of the Celtics. "But I don't want Coach to put me out there just because the crowd is chanting my name. I want Coach to put me out there because he thinks I can contribute and help the team win games.

"It's good that I have all that support in this area and that I was able to produce a lot of fans over the last four years at Maryland, but now I'm out here to help the Wizards win. Hopefully, he can continue to play me and I can find some minutes and help my team win."

The Wizards face the Pacers again tomorrow in Indianapolis. By that time Washington expects to regain Hughes, and Lue is still the backup point guard. In spite of his big outing, Dixon is still way down the bench. But this doesn't faze him.

"I think I'm pretty strong mentally," he said. "I know that my opportunity is going to come. I just have to be ready when my number is called. Every time I get my number called, I just have to take advantage of the minutes I get."

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