Allen Iverson said he would have preferred hearing any other word than "arthritis."

But that's exactly what the 76ers' 34-year-old point guard has: arthritis of the left knee.

That injury, along with a couple of smaller injuries, kept Iverson out of back-to-back games last weekend against the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers.

Still needing rest, Iverson will not play tonight against the Washington Wizards and is not expected to return until Dec. 28 at the Portland Trail Blazers.

"That was the worst part about the whole thing," Iverson said. "Y'all could have said anything but 'arthritis.' That sounds so old. But it's something I have to deal with it. At least the fans and everybody that's concerned about me knows exactly what it is."

In addition to the arthritis in his left knee, Iverson is battling a contusion in his left shoulder and a stress reaction in his right fibula - an injury he said subsequently caused the knee injury because he was compensating.

Since making his return debut with the Sixers Dec. 7, Iverson has had his left knee drained three times.

"Trying to jump back into it too soon, and I wasn't ready and in no type of shape," said Iverson. "I had a problem with my right leg, and then obviously I was favoring that leg and putting all the pressure on the left.. . . And that's why after a while it was enough is enough.. . . There's no way I can go the rest of the season just getting it drained."

Iverson said he hopes the Dec. 28 return will be a permanent one: no further games missed.

Yesterday at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Iverson watched Sixers practice.

Tonight, the 7-20 Sixers play the 8-17 Wizards at the Verizon Center in Washington. The game is the first of six consecutive road games. On Christmas Day, the Sixers fly West for a six-game road trip that concludes at the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 3.

After yesterday's practice, Sixers coach Eddie Jordan said that tonight he would likely start a backcourt of rookie Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams, whose quick return from a broken jaw has logjammed the point-guard position.

Williams suffered a broken jaw Nov. 24 - a game also at Washington - and had it wired shut two days later. The timetable for Williams' return was initially eight weeks, but Williams played limited minutes Saturday night against the Clippers, putting his return at just over three weeks.

Jordan said he felt Williams should retain his starting job because it was lost due to injury, not poor performance.

"It's muscle memory," Williams said of getting back onto the court. "It was three weeks off the basketball court. It really hadn't been that long. I'm prepared for it. It was something I had gotten used to before I got hurt, and this last game was a test for me to see where I was. Coach feels like I'm prepared, so I'm prepared."

Jordan will likely fill his starting lineup with Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young and Samuel Dalembert. Jordan said he "likes his two studs off the bench," referring to power forward Elton Brand and center Marreese Speights.

On the season, the pair is combining for 27.6 points a game. In the last two games, they are averaging 41.0 points a game.

"We still have a good rhythm and a good chemistry about ourselves," Jordan said. "It's just going to be how we're going to manipulate the rotation pretty much. . . and we'll go from there. I think that we'll work out the Willie Green, Jrue Holiday, Allen Iverson, and Lou Williams situation as the week goes along."