- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Yao Ming left the Washington Wizards with more than just a loss Saturday.

The Houston Rockets center dropped 38 points on Washington in a 114-109 victory and also battered the Wizards’ one-two tandem of centers, Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood.

Thomas sprained his left ankle trying to defend against Yao early in the fourth quarter. He will not play in the Wizards’ game against the Denver Nuggets tomorrow night at Verizon Center and is considered doubtful for Friday’s game against the Miami Heat.

He might not return until some point on the team’s four-city Western Conference swing, which begins Sunday against the Lakers in Los Angeles.

Haywood’s injury is less severe but still problematic. The 7-foot-6, 310-pound Yao swung his knee into Haywood’s thigh during the second quarter, causing a bruise that kept Haywood out of practice yesterday and could force him to miss Wednesday’s game as well.

“It’s day to day,” Haywood said yesterday. “It’s still got a lot of swelling in there. Hopefully, it will be gone by Wednesday. If it is, I’ll play. If not, I’ll sit it out. It is what it is, and we will get through it.”

If neither player is available, coach Eddie Jordan, who already is dealing with a number of injuries to his other big men, will be forced to use a different tandem.

“If Brendan can’t go on Wednesday, Calvin Booth will get the start, and James Lang will back him up unless Michael Ruffin is healthy,” Jordan said. “But I doubt that.”

The Wizards’ injury problems extend beyond Haywood and Thomas, who will be re-evaluated Saturday before the team leaves for the West Coast.

Forward Darius Songaila likely won’t return until around the All-Star break — following back surgery. Ruffin has not played in the last nine games because of a sprained foot and has been sidelined far longer than the team originally said he would.

Booth is in his eighth NBA season but has seen limited action. His appearance against the Rockets marked just the fourth game he’s played this season. However, he has started before and says he’s ready to play.

“It is a good opportunity for me. It’s a weird situation because we have Darius out, Michael out and we had Etan and Brendan go down in the same game,” Booth said. “This is my eighth year now, and I have never seen a year where a guy didn’t get an opportunity to play if he was healthy. So this is my chance, and I’ll try to do something with it.”

Lang and Booth were the primary victims of Yao, who scored 23 points (on 6-for-6 shooting) in the fourth quarter. Lang, at 6-foot-10, has decent skills around the basket. Additionally, he lost about 40 pounds since the summer and now weighs 290.

“I’m ready to do whatever they ask me to do,” said Lang, who scored a career-high seven points when the Wizards lost to the Bulls in Chicago last week. “I’m excited. It’s an opportunity for me, and I’m going to try to make the most of it.”



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