Just when things seemed to be gliding along smoothly for Washington Wizards rookie guard Juan Dixon, the injury gods stepped in to slow his roll, as the former Maryland and Calvert Hall star suffered a sprained left elbow.
Dixon, who has turned in NBA career-high scoring performances in two of his last three games, suffered the sprain during the team's practice yesterday morning before tonight's home game against the Milwaukee Bucks. His arm was placed in a splint and he was immediately placed on the Wizards' injury list, where he is expected to be for at least three weeks.
"It seems like in this business, when things are going badly, they just pile on top of you," said Wizards coach Doug Collins. "Not only have we lost six games, but now, all of a sudden, Juan is going to be out. He's had two terrific games for us in the last week."
Dixon, who is averaging 6.1 points, shooting 49 percent from the field and leading the league in steals per 48 minutes, could not be reached to comment yesterday.
Dixon, who was taken with the 17th overall pick in this summer's NBA draft - the product of a trade with the New Orleans Hornets for guard Courtney Alexander - had played intermittently in the first few weeks of the season, largely because he was behind Jerry Stackhouse, Michael Jordan, Tyronn Lue and Larry Hughes in Washington's backcourt.
"You don't want a guy to lose that competitiveness, but he's in the league as a rookie and where we have fortified ourselves is on that perimeter," said Collins recently. "He's just got to keep working and know that he's a great basketball player and to be ready."
However, Dixon's minutes got a major boost last Tuesday, when, in a home game against the Indiana Pacers, his number was called in the second half with the Wizards trailing by as many as 19 points. Dixon got six steals in the fourth quarter - a club record and only two off the NBA record - to go along with 15 points, as Washington narrowed the gap to one before losing by four.
On Saturday, Dixon scored 18 points while matched defensively against Philadelphia's Allen Iverson, who had 35, including 13 in the fourth quarter. Though Iverson outscored Dixon and hit some tough shots over him, the rookie earned the former Most Valuable Player's respect.
"We're going to miss that, especially at home, because he so fed off this crowd," said Collins. "And the crowd really likes him. We're going to miss that energy, no doubt. That's going to be a big loss for us, because what he does is put points on the board for you. He takes a lot of pressure off Michael [Jordan] and Jerry [Stackhouse]. He gives you another guy who can score."
Said Jordan: "He was playing good. His progress was steadily improving. It's a setback for some time, but with any setback, we just have to rally around each other and find a way to make it work."
Dixon's spot on the roster will be filled by forward Brian Cardinal, who was acquired with Stackhouse and center Ratko Varda from Detroit in the offseason for Richard Hamilton and three other players. Cardinal had been on the injured list.