Thoughts on Etan, Brendan and the 1-2 Wizards
Magic forward/man-child Dwight Howard was showered, dressed and heading out of the Orlando lockeroom after the game last night when he encountered someone who works for the Wizards.
"When are we going to see ya'll again?" Howard was asked.
"I don't know," He replied. "But it will be a game I'll have marked on the schedule. Tell Etan I'll be waiting."
That's just a sample of the buzz Etan Thomas created last night with his 14 point, 15 rebound, six block game. We'll have plenty of time to pick apart the other particulars in a 106-103 Wizards loss but Thomas was clearly the story of the night. He outplayed Howard, completely intimidated Darko Milicic and gave the Wizards a juice they haven't gotten from a big man in a long, long time.
The other story was the article I wrote today about the Etan Thomas/Brendan Haywood fight in the Wizards lockeroom last Thursday. Don't have many more details than what I was able to get for today's paper but from what I hear, it was a nasty throwdown that included punches and a body slam. Neither Haywood or Thomas commented last night when I informed them that the story was coming - felt I owed them that - and they both declined comment again today.
The general reaction towards me after practice today was: "hey, you've got a job to do." Antonio Daniels was not pleased with me, believing the issue was over and done with and all I did was stir it back up. That was fair criticism and I'll roll with it and move on. No worries. Other than that, I don't get the sense that the lockeroom will be bothered one way or the other. I certainly don't see guys picking sides in some titanic battle of wills between the two. If anything, players and coaches might enjoying seeing them get after it.
I didn't notice any different interactions the last few days and Eddie Jordan summed it up this way: "It's something that happened in the lockeroom, within the framework of the team, and that's where we're going to keep it. It's behind us. It happens all over the league. Different places and we're no different than any team in the league. It's a part of basketball. Things happen. It's a non-issue for us."
Jordan did have plenty to say about Thomas, who has been flashing power, agility and shot-blocking anticipation throughout the preseason and during the first three games: "I hope it's just the beginning. It's something that we saw, something that we needed and something that's been missing. I think it's going to get better and better with him."
Thomas did answer questions at length last night about his performance.
"I just watched tape of Howard against Philly and Chicago. I just looked at some of his tendencies and what he liked to do, but he is a very special player. Against him, you have to play as hard as you can. He had like 14 rebounds and five blocks, so it is not like we shut him down."
One of the impressive things about Thomas last night was the way he seemed to gain strength as the game went on. He's obviously in great shape and it showed. In nine fourth quarter minutes, Thomas had seven rebounds and three blocks.
"It was different," Thomas said of how he felt in the fourth. "LIke I said before, I had a chance to do a lot of different things, not just focus on rehab this summer. I did rehab as well but this summer, I was able to run and do sprints, do agility drills and play basketball, stuff like that. That was the main thing, just being able to get out there and play."
My favorite Thomas highlight: Orlando shot goes up. Thomas crashes his body into Howard like an NFL defensive end during a goal line stand, jostles for position and rips the rebound away from Howard before going up and scoring. Before he headed back down court, Thomas turned, looked at Howard and shouted: "In your mouth!"
Ric Bucher of ESPN (a former Wash Post Bullets beat writer) was sitting behind me and nearly fell of his chair. "Etan Thomas ladies and gentlemen. Leader in the clubhouse for most improved player."
A reporter sitting in front of me: "Has he been playing like this all season?"
Caron Butler on Thomas: "He was a beast and that's what we need from our centers this year. If we get that, we're going to be just fine."
Many people are focusing on Washington's defense after the first three games and it has been an issue but they lost that game last night on offense. In the final stretch, each member of the big three missed an open shot. The Wiz did not have a field goal in the game's final four minutes, 11 seconds and they were in the game only because they held the Magic to one point over the final 2:19.
This team has played less than excellent basketball in two road games against potential playoff teams but still has been in position to win. That's a good sign. Bad sign: They are giving up too many open jump shots and I don't see that changing. Eddie has placed an emphasis on stopping dribble penetration and protecting the rim. That's going to leave shooters open and these guys are not good at closing out, as we all learned against Michael Redd, Ben Gordon and Mike Miller last season.
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