Wednesday, May 11, 2005

MIAMI — Etan Thomas pressed his right hand into his aching midsection, wincing as he walked off the floor. Antawn Jamison gamely played through a sore right knee, the same injury that forced him to sit out Monday’s practice, strapped with enough ice to chill a half-dozen cocktails.

Oh, and Kwame Brown? The suspended forward didn’t even make the trip.

Facing a 2-0 series deficit after falling to the Miami Heat 108-102 last night at AmericanAirlines Arena in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Washington Wizards aren’t simply running out of time.

They’re running out of healthy bodies.

“It’s going to be tough,” reserve forward Michael Ruffin said. “We’re going to have to make some adjustments. But this whole season we’ve been playing with injuries, and we’ve been able to come up with wins no matter who has gone down. I expect the same thing now.”

The Wizards likely will have to do it without Thomas, a reserve center. Midway through the second quarter, he leaped between Heat center Shaquille O’Neal and guard Eddie Jones to corral an offensive rebound, then scored on a spinning putback.

Landing awkwardly, Thomas hunched over, reaching for his stomach. He left the game with an abdominal strain and did not return. He aggravated a training camp injury that forced him to miss 32 regular-season games and probably is lost for the postseason.

“Etan could be lost for the series,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “We’ll get an official report tomorrow.”

Like Thomas, Jamison missed regular-season time (14 games) with his injury, right knee tendinitis. Yet after sitting out the end of Game 1 and receiving off-day treatment on his balky joint, he grimaced his way to a game-high 32 points and added five rebounds in 41 minutes.

Jamison sank Washington’s first basket, scored eight consecutive second-quarter points and cut Miami’s lead to 102-97 in the last minute with a running, one-handed flip.

Looking alternately spry and stiff, Jamison nevertheless deflected a Jones pass to teammate Gilbert Arenas and later finished a fast break with a soaring scoop shot over Heat reserve forward Rasual Butler.

“He’s done this the last two months of the season,” Jordan said. “He’s finding his way on a bad wheel. You have to give him all the credit in the world.”

Still, Jamison’s health remains a game-to-game — and quarter-to-quarter — question mark. To wit: last night’s performance recalled his 5-for-5 outburst in the second quarter of Game 1, which preceded Jamison’s early, painful exit in the middle of the fourth quarter.

“I was able to get the strength back in my knee,” he said. “The first half, I felt pretty well. The second half, I experienced the same things as in Game 1.”

Jamison paused, sounding a note of caution.

“This is pretty much what I expect the rest of the playoffs,” he added. “It’s going to be awhile until I’m even close to 100 percent. I just have to fight through it. My teammates are going to have to pick up the slack.”

Provided they can. Jamison and Thomas’ injuries put additional pressure on a Wizards front line that has managed to contain O’Neal — a task that becomes more difficult with Washington fielding just two healthy interior players, Ruffin and center Brendan Haywood.

Perhaps presaging things to come, Haywood fouled out of last night’s game, while Ruffin committed four fouls in 22 minutes.

“Our backs are against the wall,” Haywood said. “We’re down a big [man]. [Jamison’s] not healthy. We have to make sure we stay out of foul trouble. The Heat will probably attack us inside. I know I would.”

To counter O’Neal, Haywood added, the Wizards could use Brown’s 6-foot-11, 258-pound frame. Not to mention his six fouls.

Jamison echoed that sentiment, first expressed by Arenas after Monday’s team practice.

“It would be nice and real convenient to have Kwame out there,” Jamison said. “It’s something that the coaching staff and [president of basketball operations Ernie] Grunfeld have to discuss. But for that to happen, Kwame has to really come out of his shell, get the trust of his teammates back.”

Jordan was asked whether Washington would consider reactivating Brown, who was suspended for the postseason May 3 after skipping two practices and a shoot-around.

“Right now, no,” Jordan said. “It looks like Etan could be lost for the series, but right now we’re playing with what we got.”

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