- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

When Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan benched starting center Brendan Haywood earlier this month, Haywood vowed he would return to the rotation soon.

Soon arrived Saturday night, when Haywood was back in the lineup, although that had more to do with an injury to Christian Laettner than it did with Haywood’s recent play.

Laettner, at 34 the oldest Wizards player, missed Saturday’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs because of back spasms and is likely to miss tonight’s game against the Atlanta Hawks. Jordan hopes Haywood can step in and fulfill his potential as a starting center in the league.

“Usually, the chair sends a message,” said Jordan, who benched Haywood following a four-point, three-rebound performance in a loss to New Jersey on Nov.1. “It’s not necessarily words, but we like to say ‘from the chair, to the [rear end], to the brain.’ Usually that is a coach’s best ally.”

Haywood might be able to make an impact against an Atlanta team that is struggling just as much as the Wizards (3-6). The Hawks are 3-7.

Laettner began having back pain prior to Friday’s 105-101 overtime loss in Miami, and he did not play at all in a 95-71 home loss against defending champion San Antonio.

Haywood was ineffective offensively — he had just two points — against the Spurs, but was respectable at the defensive end as he blocked a season-high five shots. But the San Antonio game was a poor indicator for the entire team, as Larry Hughes — the Wizards’ hottest player — was ejected for throwing the ball at referee Courtney Kirkland. And the Wizards made just seven of 36 field goals in the second and third quarters in the rout.

Considering 7-foot power forward and two-time reigning MVP Tim Duncan is the focal point of the Spurs and tends to dominate the lane, the Wizards will get a better idea of what Haywood has to offer against a Hawks frontline that includes Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Theo Ratliff.

“I hope this just translates into more minutes for myself, but I want the team to win first and foremost,” said Haywood, who claims he no longer questions his benching. “But secondly, I want to play. I want to be a part of it. I’m a competitor and no one likes sitting there just watching. Hopefully, I did reestablish some confidence from Coach.”

Jordan said Haywood wasn’t benched because he wasn’t giving effort but because the coaching staff liked what was happening on the floor with the veteran Laettner in the lineup. Laettner helped provide the team better ball movement and room for guards to take their men off the dribble and penetrate. Also, Laettner plays better out of the high post.

“There are decisions I have to make if I don’t see the right things out there whether it is hard work or not executing,” Jordan said.

Notes — Hughes said he was waiting to hear from the league concerning his ejection against the Spurs. He feels the ejection was unjust. If he is vindicated by the league, Hughes would be reimbursed his $1,000, the minimum fine for an ejection.


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