Wizards Desperately Seeking Win

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 5, 2006

Never mind playoff positioning. Heading into this afternoon's game against the Sacramento Kings at Verizon Center (formerly MCI Center), the suddenly slumping Washington Wizards just need a win.

Three consecutive losses, including Friday night's 119-113 defeat in Philadelphia, have halted the momentum created by three straight wins while leaving the Wizards (29-28) more concerned about stopping their skid than they are about the nightly playoff jostling that is taking place in the Eastern Conference.

After last night's games, the Wizards were in seventh place, one game ahead of Milwaukee and one half game behind Philadelphia. The three-game losing skid is the team's longest since dropping four straight from Dec. 28 to Jan. 6.

"We always say that one win can get you going and that one loss can get you going the other way," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "We just have to shift into another gear like we did in the last quarter and a half [in Philadelphia] and come at it with the same intensity and stay at that intensity."

However, the task of beating Sacramento (28-30) could be made more difficult if forward Caron Butler, the team's third-leading scorer, is unable to play or is drastically limited.

Butler suffered a high left ankle sprain -- an injury that is far more common among football players -- late in Friday's loss when 76ers guard Allen Iverson inadvertently crashed into Butler's legs while the two went after a loose ball.

Butler, who is averaging 16.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, received treatment on the train ride home from Philadelphia and more yesterday. He is listed as probable for today's game.

It's been a rough week for Butler. He was ill during Monday's 108-98 loss at Memphis and left the game for good five minutes into the second half because of a stomach ailment brought on by a bad order of room-service chicken fingers he consumed Sunday night.

Butler played 25 minutes that night but missed all five of his field goal attempts and finished scoreless for the first time all season.

Butler missed Tuesday's practice and looked sluggish while scoring six points on 3-of-14 shooting in Wednesday's 99-93 home loss to Indiana. Then, just as he was feeling like himself again while scoring 18 points with 12 rebounds and six assists in 41 minutes at Philadelphia Friday night, Butler's night came to a halt when he collided with Iverson.

"I can't get any luck," Butler said. "I mean, I'm truly blessed in all aspects of my life right now so I'm not going to complain too much but the last few days, it feels like I can't catch a break."

Butler is not the only Wizard hurting heading into today's game against a Kings squad that has won seven of its last 10 games and is 10-6 since acquiring Ron Artest in a trade with the Pacers.

Forward Jared Jeffries has been bothered by a left calf strain since early in the Indiana game and will be a game-time decision today.

After being unable to get through Friday morning's shoot-around, Jeffries started against Philadelphia but played with a limp and finished with seven points and two rebounds in 24 minutes.

After a film session yesterday, Jordan cut his players free so they could get much-needed rest. Starting today, continuing Tuesday night at MCI Center against Boston and then Wednesday night at Miami, the Wizards will play three games in four nights.

"You just need to win and grind one out," guard Gilbert Arenas said after Friday's loss. "We've been playing great basketball, it's been down to the wire. We haven't been able to pull it out."

Those corrections had better come quickly. Of the final 25 games, only 11 will be at Verizon Center. Also, the season's longest trip is looming -- six games in 10 days that begin March 23 at Utah and conclude April 1 at San Antonio.

"Bottom line is, we have to win," guard Antonio Daniels said. "We've let a couple of games go in the course of the season."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company