- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2006

For the better part of this season, any mention of Etan Thomas’ name has left Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan with a puzzled expression.

Mostly, Jordan has just shrugged his shoulders, feigning puzzlement when asked why the reserve center hasn’t been his usual aggressive self. Jordan has hinted that the two abdominal strains Thomas suffered last season — the more severe coming in training camp and the other in the playoff loss to Miami — have made this season more difficult for Thomas.

Abdominal strains can slow an athlete for months because of the delicate nature of the injury. Throw in the feeling that accompanies the loss of a close relative — Thomas missed three games this winter following the death of his grandmother — and it’s understandable why Thomas has struggled to be the player the Wizards invested $38 million in before the 2004-05 season.

“He has had a rough year, no question about it,” Jordan said. “But he knows that he’s in the rotation now, and he feels good about his game. I think he’s as healthy as he’s been all year, and he knows we have confidence in him.”

Thomas is averaging 4.7 points, the second fewest of his six-year career. His 3.7 rebounding average is the worst of his career.

But in the past few weeks, Jordan has demonstrated a new confidence in Thomas, who is averaging just more than 15 minutes a game and has recently found himself getting significantly more playing time — minutes that had been going to players like Michael Ruffin.

Thomas played 26 minutes in each of the Wizards’ last two games — a rout of Eastern Conference-leading Detroit on Saturday and a six-point loss at second-place Miami on Wednesday.

“He’s playing with the juice. He’s playing with the energy and the physicality that we need from him,” Jordan said. “Michael Ruffin isn’t doing anything to lose minutes. It’s just that Etan is a guy who plays with force when he’s healthy. He’s getting to that point now.”

What Thomas brings to the Wizards (31-30) hasn’t been there for most of the season, though, something that was clear during their 110-92 win against Detroit.

The 6-foot-10, 260-pound Thomas caught the ball in the paint in the second quarter and turned to square up, with Pistons power forward Rasheed Wallace looming.

Thomas, though, clearly made up his mind he was going to dunk the ball. Wallace knew it, too. So rather than even jump, Wallace, who is 30 pounds lighter, conceded the one-handed slam to Thomas.

But Thomas hasn’t worried about his up-and-down season. He says now that he is healthy, and patience has been important.

“You just have to wait your turn, wait for an opportunity,” he said. “If you look at it, the guys that have been playing have been playing well. I’m getting the chance to play now, and I’m happy. I had to wait for coach to call me. Now he’s calling me.”

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