Wizards' Emeka Okafor is on the rebound

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Sports,NBA,Wizards,Craig Stouffer

Center's surge coincides with team's improved play

The Chicago Bulls' frustration with the Wizards' frontcourt dominance bubbled over in a span of 38 seconds.

In an attempt to establish position on the low block, Carlos Boozer swung his right arm into the face of Emeka Okafor, sending the Wizards center reeling backward at the cost of a flagrant foul.

Booker's displeasure at the call lingered into the next Wizards possession. After both Boozer and Okafor took turns swiping away each other's arms, Okafor turned to attack with the ball. As he got his head into Boozer's body, Boozer put his arm over and flung him to the ground, earning personal and technical fouls.

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"It's fun," Okafor said afterward. "I'm a physical player. I'm built for it, and I don't shy away from contact, so when it gets rough, that's better for me."

Everything is better lately for Okafor, whose increasingly forceful presence in the paint has been right in line with the Wizards' recent resurgence. With 15 points and 16 rebounds in Saturday's 86-73 win over the Bulls, Okafor had his ninth double-double of the season.

"He was incredible. He's been incredible," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "He got one rebound tonight toward the end there where he went up with two hands, and I didn't know if he was coming down."

Okafor's potential contribution and chemistry in the Washington frontcourt were both question marks after he and Trevor Ariza were acquired in the offseason from the New Orleans Hornets in exchange for Rashard Lewis. The highest paid player on the team ($13.5 million), Okafor lost his starting spot for two games in November and frequently found himself on the bench late in games as the Wizards (11-31) struggled.

But he put to rest any notion that he couldn't coexist with Nene with 14 points and 14 rebounds in the Brazilian big man's first start in December. Over the 18 games since that lineup change, he's fifth in the NBA in rebounding (11.3 per game), and he gave an early sign that the Wizards weren't quitting on the season with his rejection on Kevin Durant on Jan. 7.

"That's what I've been asking to him," Nene said. "I say, 'Man, come on, you need to step it up. You need to help your brother right there.' He made a post move [against Chicago] I've never seen him do. I said, 'Wow, you put a smile on my face right now.'?"

Nene and Okafor also rotated their defensive assignments against Boozer and All-Star center Joakim Noah.

"Whenever you have another player -- especially a big -- who's been out there, we've seen all types of situations," Okafor said. "We can make reads off of each other without even saying anything just by certain body positions."

At 30 years old, Okafor is meticulous when it comes to how he stays in shape. The rhythm of his daily routine has been reinforced by the rhythm that he has begun to find in Wittman's rotation, in which he says his job is to bring energy.

"My mindset is if I'm on the court, I'm doing something," Okafor said, "Whether it's grabbing a rebound, blocking, stealing or covering for somebody, just whatever it takes to contribute."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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Author:

Craig Stouffer

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner