- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2009

Three games into his comeback from wrist surgery, Washington Wizardscenter Brendan Haywood is quick to point out he has a long way to go in the conditioning department.

“I’m supremely out of shape,” the eight-year veteran said. “My weight is fine, but it’s my wind. I haven’t been this out of shape since high school.”

Good shape or not, Haywood quickly reminded the Wizards how sorely they missed him. He was out for the season’s first 74 games while rehabilitating from October surgery that repaired a torn ligament in his shooting wrist.

Haywood came off the bench Wednesday for two points, two rebounds and three blocked shots in 24 minutes against Memphis. He started the following night and was more effective, recording 12 points and 10 rebounds in 32 minutes against Cleveland. On Saturday night he had 18 points - including Washington’s first 10 - along with 12 rebounds and four assists in 35 minutes against Miami.

One of the Wizards’ chronic shortcomings this season has been rebounding, but since Haywood’s return Washington has held the edge in rebounding and points in the paint. The Wizards’ interior defense also has improved, a ripple effect of Haywood’s return.

“I would say Brendan’s injury hurt us as much defensively than did missing Gilbert [Arenas] offensively,” interim coach Ed Tapscott said. “He’s always been sort of the captain of the defense. His presence, his intelligence in the back, his communication skills have helped us. It builds a certain confidence.

“And those 12 points and 10 rebounds that you can pretty much pencil him in for every night? Those are valuable, too, because it keeps us from being just a jump-shooting team.”

At one point this season, the Wizards weren’t sure that they would get Haywood back at all this season. The original prognosis was four to six months, but even after he returned to practice, Haywood estimated it would take him roughly 10 practices to regain game-type shape.

But then Wednesday - after five practices back - Haywood stopped by Tapscott’s hotel room and told him he would make his return that night against Memphis.

“I wanted to get in there and help the guys a little bit, then with Gil coming back, play a little bit with the core group,” Haywood said. “Hopefully we can get a couple more games in, build on that and see what fits and what doesn’t.”

The Wizards are encouraged about next season, when they will have a full-strength Haywood in the middle. Although he still isn’t as well-conditioned for the time being, considering he’s averaging 10.7 points and 8.0 rebounds, even Haywood at 90 percent is welcome relief for the Wizards.

“He was there for us all the time. Every time you get beat, you could feel his presence,” guard Caron Butler said Thursday of Haywood’s defense that night against Cleveland. “It was great to have a big body out there. I’ve loved playing with Brendan over the course of the last four years. I hope we finish our careers together. I love him as a person and a player.”

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