- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Juan Dixon seems to know the question even before it comes.

“Man, I’m going to play,” the Washington Wizards’ second-year guard said. “Trust me. I’m going to play, and I’m going to contribute. I’ve heard the same things before: ‘He’s too skinny. He’s too short.’ But sit back and watch.”

It has been Dixon’s nature, perhaps dating to the days when he first picked up a basketball, to be competitive and tenacious. A conversation with just about any scout or coach in the NBA almost always is littered with such adjectives.

But the former Maryland star, who became a fan favorite last season at MCI Center, is not content with just being part of the team. That isn’t in his nature, even in a crowded backcourt that might make his minutes even scarcer than last season, when he averaged 15.4 a game. Dixon also averaged 6.4 points, 1.7 rebounds and one assist. In Washington’s 104-86 victory last night over the New York Knicks in its preseason opener at MCI Center, he finished with two points and three assists in 13 minutes off the bench.

“You look around and you see that there are really some good players on this team at guard,” Dixon said. “Stack [Jerry Stackhouse], Gilbert [Arenas], Larry [Hughes] — those are obviously the main guys. But I worked on a lot of things over the summer because I knew that the competition in the NBA is only going to get better and better. I’ll do whatever it takes to contribute.”

The team added more competition in the backcourt when it drafted Dixon’s college teammate and close friend, Steve Blake. Blake is slightly bigger than Dixon, though they are both listed in the team’s preseason guide at 6-foot-3. And some suggest Blake is the more natural point guard between the two.

Dixon couldn’t do anything to add inches to his frame, but he did put some additional time in the weight room over the summer and says he added about 10 pounds to what was a 163-pound body last season.

“I was too small and too weak last season, no doubt,” Dixon said. “I knew after one season that you have to be stronger to be successful in this league.”

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan doesn’t have any idea yet what his rotation will be, something he hammered home repeatedly at training camp. However, he has made it clear that minutes and playing time will be earned, not given away.

When Jordan was hired to replace Doug Collins, Dixon made it a point to tell Jordan he really didn’t want to play point guard. However, the only player Jordan really is requiring to be a true point guard is starter Arenas.

“We have a lot of guards,” Jordan said. “We want them to have skills. We want them to be able to handle the ball, shoot it, all the things that guards are asked to do. We also want them to be able to defend. All those things are crucial.”

As far as Jordan is concerned, Dixon’s intangibles have never been in question.

“He’s got the heart of a lion, and he scraps,” the coach said. “He has a knack for good possessions, and he can make shots. He can make shots. I like that he’s gotten stronger, but he knows that I want him to get stronger.”

When relayed this message, Dixon just smiled.

“I agree with him,” he said.

Note — Hughes’ 17 points paced five Wizards in double figures in last night’s victory against the Knicks.

“I think we did some good things but we’ve still got a long way to go,” Jordan said. “I thought that we might turn the ball over a lot more than we did tonight considering that this is the first time we’ve gotten a chance to run against somebody else in our system.”

The Knicks, also playing their first game, were paced by rookie Maciej Lampe’s 16 points. New York made just 38 percent of its shots compared with the Wizards’ 50.6. Kwame Brown and Stackhouse both had 13 points for the Wizards.

Washington took its biggest lead, 87-60, on Blake’s layup with just under a minute to play in the third quarter.

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