Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Washington Wizards center Etan Thomas yesterday acknowledged he had a physical confrontation with teammate Brendan Haywood last week and said the two since have tried to work out their differences.

“I know that I was wrong,” Thomas said. “Since the altercation, we’ve had a chance to sit down and express each others’ perspectives peacefully. My conclusion was that as hard as it is to let this go, I am going to try to put this in the past and simply concentrate on what lies ahead.”

Coach Eddie Jordan benched Haywood in favor of Thomas this season, and the players exchanged blows over the matter Thursday.

The Washington Post, citing anonymous sources, reported yesterday that Thomas approached Haywood and hit him and that Haywood responded by “body-slamming” Thomas and tearing out two of his dreadlocks.

“What really happened was that after we argued and I hit him, he pushed me into the lockers,” Thomas said yesterday. “We squared off, and he grabbed my hair with both hands and wouldn’t let it go. Then, while Michael Ruffin was holding me and he had my hair, he sucker-punched me twice. That’s what really happened.”

Haywood has been unhappy since Jordan announced Thomas would start at center. Jordan consistently said Thomas has been the more forceful player.

Meanwhile, Haywood’s agent, Andy Miller, suggested Jordan made his decision for personal reasons, a comment Jordan refused to acknowledge.

Thomas performed well in his first three starts, though the Wizards lost two of them. Thomas is averaging 11.7 points a game, and he has made 16 of 21 (76.2 percent) shots from the floor. He also is averaging 8.7 rebounds a game.

He had perhaps the most balanced game of his career in the Wizards’ 106-103 loss to Orlando on Monday night, finishing with 14 points, 15 rebounds and a career-high six blocks.

“We just want him to play with a lot of force like he has been in training camp and in the preseason,” said Jordan, who called the fight old news. “Let’s continue that and carry it into the season. That’s the kind of play that we need on a consistent basis to get to another level. We’re happy about it.”

Thomas said he understood Haywood’s frustration but didn’t understand his reaction to being benched.

“Let me say first of all that I do not have a problem with Brendan. I have been his teammate for five years now, and we’ve been through a lot together,” Thomas said. “Secondly, let me say that I understand that he has been pretty frustrated with how things have developed for him, but handling that disappointment with a level of maturity and dignity is something that he needs to learn.

“The day that coach made the announcement he had a great practice, the best I’ve ever seen from him. That level of competition can be utilized to further motivate both of us. I understand he’s been frustrated, but disrespect is something that I simply cannot tolerate. I worked extremely hard this summer to prepare myself, and I am looking forward to a very productive season.”

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