- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 10, 2009

Starting center Brendan Haywood writhing on the floor in pain and grasping his right foot wasn’t a sight the Washington Wizards wanted to see.

But there he was less than three minutes into their preseason game against the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night at Verizon Center. The 7-footer had gone up for a shot, then tumbled awkwardly to the floor after receiving a hard foul from Drew Gooden.

For a moment, the Wizards tried to stave off flashbacks of last season, when they were without Haywood for 76 games because of a torn ligament in his wrist.

“When Brendan went down, I’m not going to lie - I was scared,” forward Andray Blatche said. “I thought, ‘Oh, not again.’ ”

Haywood got up and missed both foul shots, unable to put pressure on the foot, and then gingerly made his way down the court. Four minutes later he headed to the bench, then went back to the locker room with trainer Eric Waters. A short time later the Wizards, who fell 123-115, announced the center had sprained his right ankle and would not return.

Haywood’s status for Sunday’s preseason game at Toronto is questionable, but coach Flip Saunders said it was unlikely Haywood would play.

With Haywood out last season, the Wizards’ defense sank to one of the worst in the league. And Friday the team again floundered without its top paint protector.

When Haywood left, Washington held a 19-18 lead. Even with veteran Fabricio Oberto in his place, the Mavericks began attacking the interior and took a 33-26 lead into the second quarter.

In all, Dallas racked up 46 points in the paint and left Washington hoping that Haywood’s injury is nothing more than a sprain - and not something that will linger.

“He’s a big factor on this team,” guard DeShawn Stevenson said shortly before Haywood, dragging his leg, emerged from the trainers room. “Hopefully he’s all right and we’ll get him back, but we can’t afford to lose him out there.”

For point guard Gilbert Arenas, the night was a tale of two quarters.

In the team’s preseason opener Tuesday, Arenas didn’t display the scoring prowess that made him a three-time All-Star. Instead he chose to play the role of setup man, handing out 10 assists and scoring only five points.

But leading up to Friday’s game, Saunders discussed his expectations - and the need - for Arenas to progress from setup man to aggressive offensive threat. Early on, Arenas didn’t show the slightest bit of aggression, passing up shots and dishing the ball off. When the guard exited with 2:48 left in the first quarter and his team down 24-19, Arenas hadn’t attempted a shot but had four assists.

Caron Butler, meanwhile, came out and scored seven of his team’s first nine points and by halftime had a game-high 19.

A vastly different Arenas appeared for the third quarter after getting a talking-to from his coach and teammates.

“We all encouraged him,” Saunders said. “I told him at halftime, if he’s open and doesn’t shoot, the next guy he passes to is probably going to be covered. Very rarely will two guys be open on the same play. He needs to get aggressive so our guys get used to playing in that type of situation.”

Arenas responded with a 21-footer on the Wizards’ first possession of the half. After setting up Stevenson for a 3-pointer, he scored on a layup in traffic. Midway through the quarter, Arenas made another jumper from 21 feet, then a running hook shot, layup and pull-up jumper.

The guard headed to the bench after the third quarter with 12 points and nine assists. But he also had five turnovers - three in the final three minutes of the quarter.

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