- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Badly needing an emotional lift following Saturday’s throttling by the San Antonio Spurs, the Washington Wizards got just that Monday when center Brendan Haywood practiced with the team for the first time since tearing a ligament in his right wrist in training camp.

Haywood, who had surgery in November, had been taking gradual steps forward in his rehabilitation and had been a regular observer at practice. The center also had been taking time to develop his left hand.

In the past week, Haywood began taking shots with his right hand. After receiving clearance from his doctor to resume noncontact action, he wasted no time getting to work Monday.

“I got my lifting in before and my shooting in before practice,” said the 7-foot Haywood, who has yet to play in his eighth season as a professional. “Then some noncontact drills [during practice], some cardio, then played with [volunteer assistant Tony] Massenburg afterwards - so I’ll probably be a little tired tomorrow.”

Haywood’s work with the Wizards basically consisted of running through plays, catching and cutting to the basket and shooting in a nonphysical setting. He did pretty well considering he hasn’t played since October, interim coach Ed Tapscott said.

“He went up and down the court two or three times, and he took a break,” Tapscott said. “You can do a lot of cardio work, which he has done. … But it’s different when you’ve got to cut, zag, zig, sprint, make a layup - what I call the basic basketball running. Whole ‘nother level. Like I said, he looked good [the] first time. He looked good the second time. Third time? He was a little less [quick]. Fourth time, he was ‘OK, um, [Andray Blatche], you got me.’ But it was great to see.”

Tapscott praised Haywood for maintaining his playing weight of between 265 and 270 pounds, but Haywood said that hasn’t been a challenge.

“It wasn’t like I was sitting around idle and watching old reruns of ‘The Cosby Show’ and eating Jell-O all day - I was actually doing some work,” Haywood said.

After working with his teammates, Haywood’s session with Massenburg was anything but light. The 13-year NBA veteran and former Maryland player has spent the season working as an assistant with the Wizards. He bodied Haywood up, tried to block his shots and worked to get a hand on the ball when Haywood was dribbling.

Haywood responded positively, holding his ground while posting up and catching passes from assistant Wes Unseld Jr. He was even hitting fadeaway jumpers and spinning for baseline jams with his right hand.

“I feel OK. It’s part of the process, just getting better and just waiting until my time,” Haywood said. “It’s right around where I thought it would be. I had the privilege to talk to [former Knicks guard] Allen Houston over the year, and he had the same injury, and he just walked me through the process, and so far he’s been right on. He said I’d probably be able to shoot a month, month and a half before you play because that flexibility comes back, but the other flexibility is more restrictive.”

Haywood, who said he will return to New York in two weeks for his surgeon to assess his progress, has the range of motion to shoot with no difficulty but still experiences some swelling. He is working to redevelop the range of motion that allows him to bend his hand backward, which is key to playing defense and contesting shots.

No timetable has been set for Haywood’s return, and he and the team remain committed to not rushing him back and risk reinjuring the wrist. But Haywood admitted it has been tough watching his teammates struggle to a 13-43 record.

“I was expecting this team to be a playoff team. And around this time I’m trying to fight back to make a playoff run, and obviously that’s not the case now,” said Haywood, who was coming off a career year with 10.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks a game. “I [would rather have] this team be on pace for 40 wins or more and try to do something in the playoffs.

“I’ve gotten used to the playoffs, so this year’s obviously going to be a little different.”

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