- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Washington Wizards are in a bit of a swoon for several reasons, but the play of starting center Brendan Haywood is not one of them.

Recognizing the need to play a larger role as injuries have broken out all over the roster, Haywood has played his most consistent basketball this season since the All-Star break.

Averaging career highs in points (9.6) and rebounds (6.9), Haywood clearly has asserted himself, which is exactly what the Wizards expected when they rewarded him with five-year, $25million extension before the season began.

The 7-foot, 268-pound Haywood’s recent emergence became an even greater necessity earlier this week, when the Wizards (33-26) were without their best frontline player, Antawn Jamison. Jamison missed Tuesday’s game against New York with tendinitis in his right knee, thus ending his league-leading string of 386 consecutive games played.

Jamison is averaging 20 points and a team-high eight rebounds. He is listed as day-to-day and on Thursday said he might be available for the Wizards’ game at Boston tomorrow.

If Jamison does return and Haywood continues to play the way he has, the Wizards could have a nice combination of threats inside.

After collecting 13 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in the Wizards’ 93-83 loss at New York, Haywood is making 61 percent (37 of 60) of his shots over the last eight games to average 12.3 points. In his last four outings Haywood has averaged 9.5 rebounds.

“With Antawn being out, myself and Kwame [Brown] definitely have to step up and be more of a post presence,” said Haywood, who has blocked seven shots in the last two games. “We have to get those points from somewhere. When you miss 20 points out of your lineup you have to make it up somehow. I think Kwame, myself and Etan [Thomas], when he gets back, will be able to do that.”

Thomas, out the last three games with the flu, returned to practice this week and is expected to be ready to play tomorrow.

While Jamison’s injury is the biggest, the rest of the team is hobbled, too.

Gilbert Arenas is still bothered by a sore knee; Larry Hughes, back four games now after missing 20 with a broken thumb, has a sore back; Jared Jeffries is playing on a sore knee; and Juan Dixon is still bothered by a sprained right ankle.

Haywood’s upswing in play hasn’t helped the Wizards much in the standings, but it does give them a glimpse of how good this team could be if it returns to health.

The Wizards have lost seven of 10 and despite having the franchise’s best record at this point since 1978-79, they lead Cleveland (32-27) for the fourth and final homecourt seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs by just one game.

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