Wizards trying to plug hole in middle

Collins still searching for consistency in post

November 07, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

BOSTON - The biggest concern Doug Collins had going into his first season as coach of the Washington Wizards was his team's lack of an experienced inside presence. He said the Wizards would likely play with a center by committee.

Going into tonight's 8 o'clock, nationally televised game between the Wizards (2-2) and Boston Celtics (2-2) at the FleetCenter, the members of this committee have mostly abstained from being involved on a regular basis.

Starting center Jahidi White has spent more time on the bench than on the court, the result of careless fouls and stone hands.

Rookie Brendan Haywood has been out since suffering torn ligaments in his left thumb during the team's exhibition opener.

Etan Thomas has missed time with everything from recurring foot problems to a sinus condition.

The cast protecting Haywood's thumb was replaced yesterday by a splint, but the ligaments are not healed enough for the 7-footer from North Carolina to start playing. Neither is the sprained right ankle of rookie forward Kwame Brown, who will remain in Washington for treatment.

So, Collins has added members to this committee, with veteran power forward Popeye Jones forced to play more at center than at any time since his college days at Murray State and Michael Jordan being used more in the low post than he probably wants at the age of 38.

"That's a part of the growth," Jordan said yesterday after the team practiced at MCI Center. "We do not have a consistent inside presence. We have to find guys who can give us that. We definitely need an inside force more than just me."

Jones, at 6-8 and 250 pounds, gave the Wizards a bit of that in the team's first three games.

He had 13 points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes in a season-opening loss to New York, then added nine points and 13 rebounds in a road win at Atlanta. He had two points and 11 rebounds in a win at home over Philadelphia. But in a 100-78 road loss to Detroit Sunday night, Jones had five rebounds and didn't score.

Collins has been patient in waiting for his team's inside game to come around, justifying its lack of production with the number of games missed by Haywood, Thomas and Brown.

"I'd like to see us healthy before I get ultra-concerned," Collins said. "Having an inside game doesn't necessarily mean having your inside guys scoring. We have to start throwing the ball into the post and start playing out of the post. We've gone away from that after working on it in training camp. We've become a perimeter team."

The lack of a good post passer - or, in White's case, a reliable catcher - has bogged down the movement in Washington's offense. It has relegated Jordan, Richard Hamilton and Courtney Alexander - as well as power forward Christian Laettner - to rely more on their jump shots.

"We have guys who can pass out of the post," Collins said. "That will create movement and make teams defend us a little differently. We worked a lot on that today. Throwing the ball in the post is penetration, like dribbling it, and the defense has to collapse."

Given Boston's lack of an inside game - the Celtics rely mostly on perimeter players Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce - Collins likely will use Jones at center more than White again tonight, especially if White continues his trend of committing some early fouls.

"We're not going to ask Jahidi to make those kinds of plays. We're going to ask Jahidi to do other things," Collins said. "The players who can do those kinds of things, we're going to have to give them a chance to do that. That's my fault. I let us get away from that. But we haven't had a lot of practice time."

While Jones has been somewhat effective, giving the Wizards more than just a warm body up front, Laettner has been a huge disappointment. Except for some stretches in victories over Atlanta and Philadelphia, Laettner has been passive, almost sleepwalking at times.

"Every team needs an inside presence," said Laettner, who was re-signed last summer on Collins' urging with the idea that he would provide Jordan an experienced, complementary frontcourt player. "Hopefully, I'll start playing better, we'll all start playing better.

"Sometimes you're out there with guys where you have to be away from the bucket. Sometimes you're out there with guys where you can do both, go down low and drive or go out high. The key to me is that the team is not one-dimensional. I think they need me to do some of the dirty work."

Committees often have guys like that, particularly in Washington.

Forward thinking

Production of Washington's power forwards and centers this season:

Min./ Pts./ Reb./

Player G gm. gm. gm.

C. Laettner 4 31.2 7.5 5

J. White 4 21.2 3.5 5.5

P. Jones 4 27.8 6 9

E. Thomas 2 19.5 6 5

K. Brown 1 12 2 3

Blocked shots: Laettner 4, Brown 3, White 2, Jones 1

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