By Steve Wyche
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 8, 2003; Page D07
Washington Wizards second-year forward Kwame Brown might want to continue the escalating rivalry with Chicago Bulls center Tyson Chandler, drafted second behind Brown in the 2001 draft, when the teams meet for the second time in a week tonight at MCI Center.
However, if the game is close down the stretch, Brown, who got the best of Chandler in Washington's 107-82 victory last week, likely won't be on the court.
Veteran bruiser Charles Oakley probably will be in the lineup, alongside four other seasoned players who have built a clutch-time chemistry that has led to nail-biting victories in Washington's last two games against Eastern Conference front-runners Indiana and Boston.
"Remember when we lost six straight I said [we'd] have to call on veterans to get through those times?" Wizards Coach Doug Collins asked. "Your veterans have to come up with big plays and our guys have been able to do that."
The decision to go with a veteran starting lineup came about a month ago, when Michael Jordan replaced Bryon Russell, and Christian Laettner, who is in his 11th season, replaced Brown.
However, the move to the Oakley-anchored crew came in Saturday's double-overtime victory over the Pacers, when Washington needed poise and toughness to contend with Indiana's dominant front court.
Oakley, a 17-year veteran, played 27 minutes in that game, quieting red-hot Al Harrington. The performance didn't translate into more playing time Monday at Boston, but when the Celtics began pulling away midway through the fourth period, Collins tapped Oakley, 39, for the final seven minutes.
He grabbed two rebounds and although he didn't score, he did level the few Celtics who came down the lane, picking up four fouls in seven minutes.
Instead of trying to draw more fouls on Oakley, Boston opted to shoot from outside, where it missed over and over and allowed the Wizards (17-17) to win their fourth in a row.
"You take a couple hard fouls in that lane and all of a sudden guys start looking around," Collins said. "We don't want to be a dirty team but we don't want that lane to be a freeway to the basket. We want guys to pay a price and have to make free throws under pressure. Oak does that. I talked to Brendan [Haywood], Etan [Thomas] and Kwame about what they can learn from watching Oak."
The rapid meshing of Oakley into the lineup at the end of games wasn't surprising to any of the veteran players, even though Oakley has rarely played or practiced with the first-team players this season.
"In late-game situations, it's important to execute and having guys in the game who will execute," Stackhouse said. "Having Oak out there is really an anchor for us because you know he's going to make the right plays. He knows when to take fouls and not give up layups."
Said Oakley: "Guys feel comfortable playing together because we know what guys like to do. I don't think the young guys can read the veterans and that's key in tight situations. There are a lot of things going on down there that those young guys might not be able to get away with. The officials might call a quick call on them. They let us play a little more. They see the other team has veterans out there and we have veterans so let them play."
As for Brown, he said watching at the end of games is educational but that he hopes to play well enough over time to be counted on in tight situations.
Regarding his matchup with Chandler, whom he outscored 20-8 last week, Brown said: "I know he's going to want to make a statement after the game in Chicago. That's the beauty of competition. I understand that in this business, a guy gets picked ahead of you and you feel you should have been picked before him you're going to go at him and vice versa. If you know a guy is coming at you, you want to compete and go at him."
Wizards Notes: Guard Juan Dixon (sprained left elbow) was cleared to begin full-scale workouts; however, he will need a few more practices before he will be activated, Collins said. Center Jahidi White (left knee surgery) has been practicing with the team but is still several days, if not weeks, from being taken off the injured list.
White's mobility is still limited and his conditioning is still nowhere near game readiness, Collins said.