- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

When Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan was informed starting center Brendan Haywood’s sore back would keep him out of Sunday’s game against Golden State, Jordan knew he would have to lean heavily on veteran backup Calvin Booth.

Jordan has played Booth in spot minutes all season long, so it would not be a huge adjustment.

But when Etan Thomas, who started in place of Haywood, drew his second foul just two minutes into the game, Jordan knew he would have to rely on Booth much more than usual.

And the 6-foot-11 veteran delivered.

Overshadowed by the ending of Washington’s 107-106 victory, which included questioned late foul calls and a technical on Golden State coach Don Nelson that gave Gilbert Arenas a crucial third free throw with 0.1 seconds left, Booth was solid in his 20 minutes of action, his third highest total this season.

Booth, who entered averaging 1.48 rebounds in 8.45 minutes a game, quietly blocked a game-high three shots and grabbed seven rebounds, tied for second on the team only to Antawn Jamison’s 11.

“Calvin was terrific for us,” Jordan said. “He was the man in the middle who made a lot of things happen for us. He has been very instrumental in a lot of big wins. He’s a pro’s pro. With Brendan being out, he knew he had to step up.”

Haywood will be back in the lineup tonight when the Wizards (33-25) play host to Atlantic Division-leading Toronto (32-28), and the Wizards don’t anticipate Thomas will be handcuffed by the same type of early fouls he picked up Sunday.

But that won’t prevent Jordan from again giving Booth extended minutes.

Jordan inserted Booth into the starting lineup at Toronto on Jan. 31, the first of 12 games the Wizards played without Jamison, who injured his left knee the night before. Booth had four points in 18 minutes in a 119-109 loss, and Jordan knew he needed Booth’s height against Raptors 6-foot-11 All-Star Chris Bosh.

Bosh, averaging 22.8 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, was the No. 4 pick in the 2003 draft behind LeBron James, Darko Milicic and Carmelo Anthony. He played a huge role in Toronto’s two victories over Washington in the team’s two meetings this season, particularly in the game Booth started. Bosh missed his first four shots, then made his next 15 to finish with 34 points.

“To me, he’s the best young big man in the league,” said Haywood, coming close to comparing Bosh to MVP candidate Dirk Nowitzki of Dallas. “And they might be the hardest team in the league for us to play because they can put five guys on the floor who can step out and make shots.”

Booth will be part of a contingent of players Jordan will throw at Bosh to try to slow him down. Jordan likes that Booth can step out and hit the jump shot and pull Bosh away from the basket and that he’s agile enough to step outside to help blanket the capable shooter.

Booth said that while the Wizards went just 4-8 during Jamison’s absence, the team benefited because bench players like Andray Blatche and Roger Mason gained confidence they didn’t have earlier in the season.

“I know there was a point in the season when the bench didn’t have that much confidence,” said Booth, who will become a free agent this summer. “But now we’re at a point where we know the bench can produce.”

Note — The Wizards, Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls — all vying for the second seed in the Eastern Conference — are within 21/2 games of each other. The Wizards play host to the Raptors once more this season (March 30).

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