Wizards ride Thomas to win over Cavaliers

Bench player scores 18 after fender-bender in rain

James scores career-high 28

Washington's 106-95 win is team's second in row

November 20, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Rest assured that getting into traffic accidents is not the recommended method for pre-game preparation, but if the Washington Wizards can get the kind of play out of Etan Thomas that they did last night after his accident, they might get him a demolition derby car.

Thomas was involved in a slight accident on the way to MCI Center, then wrecked the Cleveland Cavaliers with a career-high 18 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, pacing the Wizards to a 106-95 win.

"It was just a little fender-bender," Thomas said of the accident. "It was in the rain and it made me a little late to the game. Those things happen. What can you do?"

What Thomas did was bring passion and energy, particularly on the offensive glass, where he pulled down seven rebounds.

"He's the heart and soul of what we do," said Washington coach Eddie Jordan, whose team has won two straight. "We've kind of taken his personality, his grit, determination and second effort. He's our leader right now."

Said Gilbert Arenas: "He's been the catalyst the whole season. He's doing a great job for us coming off the bench. He could be a starter in this league, and it's great to have a warrior like him coming off the sidelines."

Indeed, Thomas, who played 29 minutes, may not be on the floor when the game starts, but it has become increasingly clear that he will be there when it ends.

Jordan said before the game that he does not want to start Thomas, who had a second straight double double, for fear of disrupting the rotation, but said after the game that he is tempted to make a move.

"He's really acknowledging that I'm a hard worker and that's great," said Thomas. "That's what we have to do. We really have to just hold it down the best that we can until [Jerry] Stackhouse comes back. Every night is going to be a dog fight."

The Wizards (5-6), who begin a four-game Western trip tomorrow in Denver, had just such a fight on their hands as the Cavaliers (4-8) battled the entire night, nearly coming back from 19 points down, without starting power forward Carlos Boozer (sprained right ankle).

"This was a game that we definitely wanted to win," said guard Larry Hughes. "We wanted to pay them back for getting us earlier in the year [a 111-98 Cleveland win on Nov. 8]. We came out and did what we had to do. It wasn't pretty by any means, but we're looking to build on this win."

The Cavaliers had five players in double figures - including LeBron James, who had a career-high 28 points, along with seven rebounds and eight assists. Cleveland outshot the Wizards from the field and got more points from its bench.

"We get all of our offense off of defense," said James. "We didn't come out in the first quarter and play the defense we are capable of and this is what's happened. When you get down early, you have to work so hard just to break even. We got it down to four, but we just couldn't get over the hump because we worked so hard to get back."

But the Wizards responded with solid, if not spectacular play from their backcourt. Arenas had 25 points, while Hughes had 22, as the two combined to shoot 16-for-39 from the field. Kwame Brown chipped in 15 points and 10 rebounds.

"We made silly passes. We let people drive down the lane," said Jordan. "This team has a bond and they've pretty much made a covenant that this is who we are. We have a different style, but we love it. We play with passion and somehow we find the winning plays, especially in the last two games."

Next for Wizards

Opponent: Denver Nuggets

Site: Pepsi Center, Denver

When: Tomorrow, 9 p.m.

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WTEM (980 AM)

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