By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 2, 2007
Forward Antawn Jamison will miss three to six weeks with a sprained left knee, removing the Washington Wizards' most versatile front-court player from the lineup for at least eight and as many as 19 games as the team tries to hold on to its position atop the Eastern Conference.
An MRI exam taken yesterday revealed that the knee will not require surgery, and Jamison was cleared to begin rehabilitation exercises immediately. He injured the knee during a home win over Detroit on Tuesday and did not play in Wednesday's loss at Toronto.
Jamison, who was coming off consecutive 30-point games when he was injured while bumping knees with teammate DeShawn Stevenson on Tuesday night, is the Wizards' third-leading scorer (19.3 points per game) and second-leading rebounder (7.9 per game). Along with Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, Jamison has helped form the NBA's highest-scoring trio for the last two seasons.
Veteran Calvin Booth started in Jamison's place at Toronto on Wednesday night, and Coach Eddie Jordan could start guard-forward Jarvis Hayes against opponents with smaller lineups.
The team is currently without forward Michael Ruffin, who has missed 34 games with a sprained foot, and forward-center Darius Songaila, who has not played this season.
Songaila, who underwent back surgery on Nov. 2, has been practicing and could make his Washington debut as soon as tomorrow night when the Wizards host the Los Angeles Lakers. Second-year forward Andray Blatche has been limited to spot duty all season but played 17 minutes during Wednesday's loss at Toronto.
The Wizards (27-18) are in first place in the Eastern Conference.
"I'm obviously disappointed that this happened," Jamison said in a statement released by the team. "We have been playing very good basketball as a team to put ourselves at the top of the Eastern Conference. I was really starting to get in a good groove, so it's frustrating that I'll have to miss some time, but injuries are a part of the game."
The Wizards will have to rely more upon Arenas and Butler, who already got a taste of life without Jamison during Wednesday's 119-109 loss at Toronto.
The Raptors sent a second defender at Arenas and Butler on several occasions with the clear intention of getting the ball out of their hands. Opponents similarly loaded up against Arenas and Jamison when Butler missed five straight games late last season. The Wizards lost all five games and failed to score 100 points in three of them.
Defensively, Jamison is probably Washington's least effective player. But offensively, his three-point shooting and ability to beat larger defenders off the dribble tends to spread the floor for Arenas and Butler, creating driving lanes and open jump shots.
"A few times when I caught the ball on the elbow or on the logo on isolation plays, I saw the second defender coming immediately, whereas before, they would have to wait for me to go into a move because Antawn was standing out there at the three-point line," Butler said of Wednesday's loss at Toronto.
"They were sending differing looks at me and Gilbert, trying to make us force a shot or give the ball up quickly. Gilbert and I were talking about it on the team bus. Now that we know they're going to do that, we know what to expect."
Wizards Notes: Tomorrow night's game against the Lakers is shaping up to be one of the Wizards' most eagerly anticipated regular season contests in recent seasons. The game is sold out. . . . Mechanical problems with the team plane forced the Wizards to stay overnight in Toronto following Wednesday's game. The team flew home yesterday, but Coach Eddie Jordan gave his players the day off, as he typically does following games on back-to-back nights.