With Butler Hurt, Wizards Feel the Pain

Caron Butler's absence the past two games has coincided with two straight defeats.
Caron Butler's absence the past two games has coincided with two straight defeats. (By Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 10, 2006

As his teammates took the court for Saturday night's game against the Miami Heat, Caron Butler was standing in the hallway outside the Washington Wizards' locker room looking like a grade-schooler who had been kept inside for recess.

Butler missed his second straight game -- a 99-86 loss to his former team -- with a sprained right thumb. He suffered the injury to his shooting hand during Wednesday's game at Boston and aggravated the injury in practice on Thursday in Atlanta.

"I'm dying to play, but it's not ready," said Butler, who had warmed up but was pulled about a half hour before tip-off. "I can't even grip the ball and that's my game."

Without Butler, who will be a game-time decision for tonight's game at Philadelphia, the Wizards (39-37) have dropped two straight games while losing a chance to put distance between themselves and the teams behind them in the Eastern Conference.

Heading into tonight's fourth and final meeting with the 76ers (35-41), the Wizards are in fifth place, 2 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee (37-40), which lost at home yesterday to New Jersey. Seventh-place Indiana (36-40) is three games behind the Wizards. Two of Washington's final six games will be against the Bucks. The teams meet Wednesday at Milwaukee and April 18 at Verizon Center. Milwaukee won the first meeting, 105-102, at Verizon Center on Dec. 2.

After his team's 16th consecutive loss to the Heat, in which the Wizards scored 16 points below their average and looked disjointed at both ends of the floor after a strong first quarter, Coach Eddie Jordan did not blame injuries. Center Etan Thomas, who had started seven straight games, is expected to miss about a week with a lower back strain.

"Not having Caron and Etan -- those are two starters -- obviously hurts us," Jordan said, "but we should be able to execute our plays, defend the right way and then play hard. We're missing two guys, but that's not hampering us from doing what we should be doing."

The absence of Butler, who is averaging 17.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists, is a particular problem because he keeps defenses from keying on guard Gilbert Arenas and forward Antawn Jamison.

Arenas, Butler and Jamison are the league's highest scoring trio (67 ppg) and have made the Wizards the league's third-highest scoring team. Arenas overcame back problems of his own to score 41 points in Friday's 114-101 loss at Atlanta and 30 against Miami, but Jamison is in the midst of a three-game shooting slump.

Jamison has made 19 of his last 65 shots, including four of his last 20 three-point attempts and finished with eight points and six rebounds in the loss to Miami. Jordan said he'd like to see Jamison in the post more often and looking for higher-percentage shots.

"That's two nights in a row where he hasn't shot well," Jordan said. "We need to get him in the post and get more post-ups from him, get to the free throw line. That's what he needs to do when his shot isn't falling for him."

The Wizards hold a 2-1 lead in the season series with Philadelphia and want to get off to a good start on a three-game trip that continues Wednesday at Milwaukee. The 76ers can move a half-game ahead of Chicago for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with a win.

Allen Iverson scored 39 points in an 89-75 win at Chicago on Friday night. The Wizards beat the 76ers twice at Verizon Center but lost, 119-113, at Philadelphia on March 3. Iverson scored a game-high 47 points and the 76ers shot 56.3 percent from the field.

Wizards Note: Guard Antonio Daniels, who missed Friday's loss at Atlanta with a sprained left wrist, started in Butler's place against Miami and scored a season-high 25 points. Daniels has been wearing a bandage above his right eye after falling to the floor at San Antonio last week, and was walking around the team hotel in Atlanta with his wrist wrapped in ice when he encountered a woman who was in town for a religious convention.

"She saw me and gasped," Daniels said. "Then she put her hands on me and started praying. When I saw her later, she prayed for me again."

Did it work?

"I don't know," Daniels said, "but I'll take all the help I can get."

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