- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2007

Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan isn’t going to replace the players on his bench with a help wanted sign, but he clearly has some concern about his reserves.

No, it wasn’t the play of the reserves in the Wizards’ 93-80 loss at San Antonio on Saturday — a defeat that marked the first back-to-back losses for the Wizards (20-16) since they dropped four in a row ending Nov. 25 — that caused him to come to that conclusion.

With Jarvis Hayes scoring 12 points and improving 20-year-old Andray Blatche checking in with a balanced 10-point, eight-rebound effort, the Wizards’ reserves outscored San Antonio’s bench 34-30, a number rendered irrelevant because of the combined 15-for-52, 38-point effort by Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison.

That trio, which averages a league-high 69.5 points a game, means the Wizards usually don’t have to rely on their bench as much as other teams. Washington’s bench averages a league-low 20.1 points. Considering that Houston, which also has a winning record, has the second-least productive bench in the league (22.1 ppg), it is a statistic that can be overcome.

The Wizards’ problems are centered more on manpower — or the lack of it. Because of injuries to Etan Thomas, Michael Ruffin and Darius Songaila, Jordan has played most of the season with a tighter rotation, with much of the reserve duty going to Antonio Daniels and Hayes.

And Jordan doesn’t know how long the team will continue to be effective under those circumstances.

“If you don’t change the team, then you have to keep working at it with the people you’ve got. That’s it,” Jordan said after the San Antonio game. “It’s just going to wear us down, and maybe you see some of the effects of it, especially against a good team like that. We try to go to the bench, and I thought they did a pretty good job, but that’s where it is right now.

“We wondered how long this could last. I’m not a doctor. I’m just a layman. But I think a seven-man rotation can only get you to about late January.”

The Wizards are not believed to be involved in any discussions involving trades, according to a league source. The feeling is that when the roster is healthy — the team has not had its full complement of players yet — the Wizards will have significantly better and more experienced depth.

Thomas should continue to round into shape after missing a month with a sprained ankle and could return to the starting lineup soon.

Reserve forward/center Ruffin is more of a question mark. Ruffin has missed the team’s last 25 games with a Lisfranc fracture in his right foot, a condition that usually requires surgery to repair.

Meanwhile, there are reasons to start being optimistic free agent acquisition Songaila might be getting closer to making his debut with the Wizards.

Acquired during the summer, Songaila, a 6-foot-9 forward/center who should make the Wizards more versatile at the offensive end, has yet to suit up this season following back surgery.

Jamison won’t allow the team to use injuries as a crutch.

“We can’t use excuses. When we were winning it wasn’t an issue, so now that we’ve lost a few we can’t make it an issue,” Jamison said. “We’ll be getting Darius back in the next couple of weeks, and soon we’ll have our roster at full strength. This is just a challenge for us to dig down and play better basketball.”

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