- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2006

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Billy Thomas showed Tuesday night why the Washington Wizards signed him for the remainder of the season when his second 10-day contact expired earlier this month.

Thomas played the entire fourth quarter in helping the Wizards (37-33) exorcise a 10-year demon, defeating the Sacramento Kings at Arco Arena 97-84. It was the Wizards’ first win here since Dec. 19, 1996.

With leading scorer Gilbert Arenas laid up in a Sacramento hotel wracked with flu-like symptoms, Thomas had his best game for the Wizards when they needed him most. The guard matched his career high with 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting, and he also had three steals.

Most importantly, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan had no problem using Thomas, who has proved to be a physical defender, when the game was on the line.

“He’s a veteran, and what I liked more than his offense was his defense,” Jordan said. “He got some digs, he got some steals and he really got into Ron Artest. He got into anybody he was defending.”

Thomas, a 30-year-old, second-year NBA player is as well-traveled as they come. He has played in the now defunct International Basketball Association, the CBA, the NBA Development League and leagues in Italy, Argentina and the Philippines since leaving Kansas in 1998.

Thomas’ success came as no surprise to his teammates. They know how hard he works before and after practice to make sure he is ready to step in when needed.

“The thing about Billy is that he knows what his role is and he doesn’t try to do anything outside of it,” said Antonio Daniels, who filled in for Arenas with 17 points and a game-high seven assists. “We know what he can do, and we know that he can play. We have confidence in him, and that helps him have confidence with us when he’s out there. He’s a real team player.”

Jordan had told Thomas, the last cut by the Wizards in their past two training camps, to be ready for a call. And before the Sacramento game Jordan asked for more preparedness.

“Coach and a couple of guys have talked to me about being ready,” said Thomas, who played 25 games last season for the New Jersey Nets. “With things going the way they did, I had a feeling that I was going to be the guy that Coach called on.”

Thomas led all scorers with six points in the fourth quarter.

“That gives me the confidence to go out there and just play like I belong,” Thomas said. “I have been working hard to get to this point, and my faith in God has allowed me to believe that I belong.”

He wasn’t the only player to come up big for the short-handed Wizards, who also were without backup center Brendan Haywood (back spasms). Etan Thomas, the new starter at center, contributed 12 points and eight rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Caron Butler, despite being gashed in the forehead by a Kenny Thomas elbow, led the Wizards with 23 points and nine rebounds. Jared Jeffries blocked a career-high five shots.

“A lot of guys took on the challenge and came up big in a tough situation,” Jordan said.

Note — Jordan gave the team an off-day yesterday. The Wizards will return to practice today in preparation for tomorrow night’s game at Houston.

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