Wizards center Thomas returning from ankle sprain

WASHINGTON -- Center Etan Thomas will return to the
Washington Wizards for Wednesday's game against the Chicago Bulls
after missing a month with a sprained left ankle.

Etan Thomas Thomas

Thomas practiced Tuesday for the second consecutive day.

"He's in shape. He's got his wind," coach Eddie Jordan said,
adding that Brendan Haywood will start at center against Chicago.

The Wizards have gone 10-3 since the bruising Thomas was injured
Dec. 9 against Houston, allowing Haywood to regain the starting job
he lost in the preseason. In 12 starts in that span, Haywood is
averaging 9.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks while shooting 63

Still, Jordan is thrilled to get Thomas back in uniform.

"You know how he plays, with that tenacity and that force and
that power," Jordan said. "He was really protecting the rim at
all costs. He was shot blocking, taking charges, rebounding. And we
miss that. We really do."

Washington is 19-14 despite allowing 106.8 points per game; only
Golden State gives up more: 107.1. Chicago (20-15) allows 95.

Since the preseason, Jordan has emphasized improving his club's

"We want to be the best team in the East. The best. Not one of
the best. The best team in the East. So we have to have a killer
instinct at both ends of the floor. We've got to defend," Jordan
said. "We have to start possessions ready to defend and we have to
close out possessions with rebounding."

A healthy Thomas, who ranks third on the team with an average of
6.6 rebounds, should help in that department.

Forward Caron Butler does see some improvement, though.

"Defensively, I think we're starting to come together
collectively to protect the paint a little better," said Butler,
who's scored at least 20 points in six consecutive games. "We've
got to do a better job of rebounding, but overall we're getting

Washington can cover up some defensive lapses with an offense
that's averaging 108.1 points, second in the NBA behind Phoenix.
The Wizards have scored at least 100 points in each of their last
17 games.

The last team to hold them under that mark? The Bulls, who beat
the Wizards 112-94 on Dec. 2 at Chicago. Gilbert Arenas -- currently
No. 2 in the league with a 30.5-point average -- shot only 3-for-11
that night, Antawn Jamison went 3-for-10, and they combined for 19

"We just watched the tape. We didn't play very well. They
really took it to us. Our minds weren't really in the right place.
They took a lot of things away from us offensively. We have to
learn from that," Jordan said. "We have to keep our composure
against their really good man-to-man defense."

Since that game, though, the Wizards are 13-4. And they know
they've been a different team on the road than at home, where
they're off to a 13-3 start for the first time in more than 20

"Whenever a team gets you at their house, there's always
another opportunity to get back at 'em when you're playing them at
your home," Butler said. "And we play well here."