- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

A little more than a week ago, Etan Thomas and Juan Dixon’s roles were big questions for Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan.

Dixon seemingly had fallen out of the rotation before the start of the season, looking as if he would be thrust into a cheerleader’s role as Chris Whitney and former Maryland teammate Steve Blake soaked up the minutes off the bench.

And Thomas, once a lottery selection, needed to gain the trust of a new coach who was aware of his history of injuries.

But Dixon and Thomas have proved to be key reserves in the first three games of the season, meaning Jordan hasn’t had to fret over whether they will perform when he turns to them.

“Right now Etan is doing all the little things we need from him to stay in games,” Gilbert Arenas said. “He’s setting screens and pushing people around. So far he’s done it all.”

Thomas is significantly more physical than starting center Brendan Haywood, and starting Thomas ahead of Haywood already has been broached with Jordan.

A change doesn’t sound imminent, however.

“I think the roles that the guys have now are good right now,” Jordan said. “I think Etan is good in his specific role. Is he going to be a better starter than he is coming off the bench? I don’t know.

“If there is any drastic, drastic difference between a guy who is starting and a guy who is coming off the bench, then maybe we’ll have to look at that more.”

Thomas has played the most minutes at center among the Wizards so far. As a result he’s fourth on the team in scoring (10.3), and only Kwame Brown has grabbed more rebounds than Thomas’ 25.

And what of Dixon?

“I like what he brings to the floor,” Jordan said. “He knows that I want him to work on his decision making, and he’s going to do that. I’ve probably got to put him in a position to do more catch and shooting. Defensively he knows he’s got a green light to take some risks, too.”

Dixon has appeared in all three games and played more minutes than Whitney and Blake combined. That wasn’t expected after a preseason in which Blake appeared to be much more effective.

But that never bothered Dixon.

“I never felt like I was out of the rotation,” Dixon said. “My opportunity came in the regular season, and I’m just trying to do what I can to stay in the rotation and help the team.”

As a whole, Jordan has been more than satisfied with the play of his reserves. In the Wizards’ last two games — losses to Toronto and New Jersey — the play of the second unit has given Washington an opportunity to win.

Against the Nets on Saturday, Jordan also gave extended minutes to Christian Laettner (26), Whitney (19) and Jared Jeffries (18). Washington’s bench outplayed the Nets’, outscoring it 37-23 despite the presence of Alonzo Mourning.

And in the team’s opening night rout of the Bulls, Washington’s bench played significantly better than Chicago’s.

“The bench has kept us in three games,” Jordan said. “They deserve to play more. They’ve shown that in practices, too. They’re more organized than the starters.”

The Wizards likely will need a big effort from the reserves again tonight when they play host to high-scoring Dallas. The Mavericks, Western Conference finalists last season, have added Antoine Walker to their starting lineup via a trade with Boson, and they acquired Antawn Jamison from Golden State in the offseason.

“They have a potent mix,” Jordan said. “We’ll need good play from everyone.”

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