- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

It was a disparity simply too large to ignore.

Of the 101 points the Washington Wizards scored in their 106-101 overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, just 13 came inside the paint

To Charles Oakley, that means one thing the Wizards' big men, despite all the promise that gets bandied about concerning the young guys, are coming up way too small at this time of the season.

"Our guys have to be more nasty on the court," Oakley said of the Wizards' young interior players. "That's what we need. Our little guys, Juan [Dixon], Michael [Jordan], Jerry [Stackhouse], they've got toughness. But when your little guys are tough and you're big guys aren't tough, that's a weakness. The season will be over sooner than later."

All systems were go against Dallas early on as the Wizards built a 21-4 lead. But in the second quarter the Mavericks started to rally. And when 7-footer Dirk Nowitzki got hot, Wizards coach Doug Collins decided Kwame Brown couldn't stay on him, forcing Oakley, 39, and Jordan, 40, to guard the 24-year-old All-Star.

The Wizards (26-29) will be short-handed in terms of big men again tonight when they face an Indiana Pacers team that loves to play physical down low. That does not exactly bode well for the Wizards tonight or, considering the health of their big men, for the remaining 27 games on the schedule.

Jahidi White, last season's starter at center, has missed all season after knee surgery, and sources in the organization are saying White likely won't suit up this year. There is not enough time remaining for White to get into any kind of condition to be a factor.

Etan Thomas, who in the last five days has received eight stitches in his lip and has been smashed in his left eye by New Jersey's Richard Jefferson, showed up at practice with the eye completely shut and won't play tonight unless the swelling goes down. The decision will be made at game time.

This pretty much leaves Brendan Haywood as the lone legitimate center, and in recent weeks his game has looked like it's in regression.

Last season Haywood appeared as if he was going to be a steal for the Wizards, who picked him up in a deal for Laron Profit and a future conditional first-round pick. Haywood has started 50 games this season 48 more than last season but his numbers have shown little improvement. The 5.2 rebounds he's averaging are identical to last season, and his 6.4 scoring average is only 1.3 better than last year.

By his own admission, Haywood expected more from himself.

"It's not going as good as I planned," Haywood said, "but at the same time I don't think that it's gone down. It's not where I want it. I expected to be having a better season, but it hasn't happened for me."

Not by a long shot.

In his last 29 games, Haywood has scored in double figures just five times, topped by the 16 he scored in a win against Orlando on Jan. 16. Thirty games have gone by since Haywood hit double figures in rebounds in a game, and he has just one double-double this season: 11 points and 12 rebounds in an 18-point loss to the Grizzlies on Dec. 18.

When Oakley looks at Haywood he says he sees a player who reminds him physically of former Boston great Robert Parrish. In fact, Oakley has suggested to Haywood that he spend as much time as possible watching tapes of the "Chief" in his prime.

"They've got a lot of similarities," Oakley said. "Chief would shoot the turnaround jumper, the fadeaway. Parrish was a good shot blocker. Brendan just has to show people that when they step in the paint he's not going to back down. He's an easygoing guy. But when you're that big you can't be easygoing. You've got to be tough.

"But he's got to start getting that way now. You have to build it up every year. I told him that if he doesn't start now he's not going to get it five or six years in the league. You gotta start now. If you're lackadaisical now you're going to be lackadaisical."

In fairness to Haywood, the Wizards' offense is designed to get more out of its perimeter players, Jordan, Stackhouse and even Dixon. The Wizards want Haywood to concentrate on blocking shots, running the court and playing defense, betting that if he does those things he will start to see his developmental arc begin to head upward again.

And this is as good a time as any to start. With each passing defeat the Wizards appear as if they will need some outside help to get in the playoffs. After the Wizards play at Indiana tonight, they come home to face Houston and Yao Ming on Thursday before the schedule softens a bit with Chicago, Miami, Toronto and the Los Angeles Clippers.

But Haywood can't think about that.

"I have to just keep on working," Haywood said. "If I do that I'll continue to see some improvement."

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