- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2005

Don’t get Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan wrong. It’s not that he wouldn’t love for Etan Thomas to have the type of game he had against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday every night — he’s just not counting it.

“It’s something to chew on and feed from and move on with,” Jordan said of the career-high 23 points and eight rebounds Thomas had off the bench in the Wizards’ 112-94 victory over the Bucks. “It’s going to take another few efforts, four, five or six games where we can see consistent play. We don’t want this to be one blip on the radar, and we don’t see him anymore.”

Thomas, the Wizards’ 6-foot-10, 260-pound center, is just happy to be back on the court. After Washington matched the Bucks’ six-year, $39million offer sheet to Thomas, he had to sit out the first 32 games of this season because of a severely strained abdomen he suffered on the last day of training camp.

“Injuries are unfortunate, and there really isn’t anything anyone can do about it. You just have to keep fighting and working hard,” Thomas said. “This is kind of a reward right now. It felt great being out there. Right now I’m just going to do whatever I can to make a contribution.”

After putting up career highs in points (8.9) and rebounds (6.7) last season, Thomas was looking forward to this season, hoping to avoid the injuries that have plagued him throughout his career.

Thomas, a lottery pick (12th overall) by the Dallas Mavericks out of Syracuse in 2000, missed all of his rookie year with a toe injury. The next season, after he was sent to the Wizards in an eight-player deal, the New Jersey Nets’ Richard Jefferson broke Thomas’ eye socket with an elbow, forcing him to have surgery and miss the final 28 games.

Last year Thomas appeared in 79 games, the most of his career. Now, as the longest-tenured player on the Wizards’ roster, he’s trying to put the past behind him as the team makes a push for its first playoff spot since 1997.

Ideally, the Wizards (27-19) would have been able to work Thomas back into the lineup gradually. But with Kwame Brown (ankle) and Larry Hughes (thumb) out until after the All-Star break and Antawn Jamison starting to show signs of wear, the Wizards need Thomas to bolster their frontcourt.

“It’s very important,” Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas said of the interior play of players like Thomas and starting center Brendan Haywood. “You can’t win a championship with guard ball. At some point in the game the guards are going to get tired from trying to do everything, and we are going to need our bigs. And right now they are proving that they can play.”

Thomas and Haywood (13 points, seven rebounds) combined for 36 points on 14-for-19 shooting and 15 rebounds Saturday night. That opened up the court for Arenas, who had one of his finest all-around games, finishing with 31 points, nine assists, six rebounds and six steals as the Wizards ended their season-long four-game losing streak.

Not lost on Thomas is that Arenas’ superior play also will open the floor for him, giving him a chance to help offset the loss of Hughes and Brown.

“It’s crucial,” Thomas said of establishing the Wizards’ inside game. “Especially when we get the Big Three back.”

Against the Bucks, Thomas said, “Coach was emphasizing the point that he wanted the ball to go inside. The way Gilbert was shooting the ball it helped extend the defense and open everything up inside. They didn’t really come and double us.”

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