Wizards Win, but May Have Lost Butler Again to Knee Injury

gilbert arenas - washington wizards
Gilbert Arenas scores 20 points during a 35-point, third-period outburst by Washington on Wednesday as the Wizards extend their slim division lead over the Heat to one full game. (Darron Cummings - AP)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 15, 2007

INDIANAPOLIS, March 14 -- With his team desperate for a win, Washington Wizards all-star forward Caron Butler attempted to play despite a sore left knee Wednesday night against the Indiana Pacers. After 13 minutes 20 seconds of action, Butler took a seat, wrapped the knee in a heating pad and mouthed the words "I'm done" to athletic trainer Eric Waters.

As he left the court at halftime, Butler told a reporter, "It's going to be awhile," in reference to a question about the knee, which has bothered Butler since he suffered a contusion just above the knee during last Wednesday's loss in Atlanta.

The news dampened what was otherwise a good night for the Wizards, who snapped a three-game losing streak with a 112-96 win over the slumping Indiana Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse. It was Indiana's 11th consecutive loss.

The Wizards are off Thursday, but Butler said he would come in for treatment and further evaluate his condition on Friday and Saturday before determining his status for Saturday night's game against the New Orleans Hornets at Verizon Center.

"I tried to gut it out," said Butler, who finished with two points and two rebounds. "Eric told me to give them the word if it wasn't feeling right at any time. I hit a shot and the shot felt great, the rhythm felt great but then it stiffened up on me, stiffened up a lot and when I sat on the bench for a minute, it really stiffened up and I just called it."

For one night at least, the Wizards got by without one of their key players. Gilbert Arenas, who sparked a 35-point third quarter by scoring 20 points, finished with 35 points on 10-of-22 shooting and had eight assists. Antawn Jamison had the hot hand early, scoring 17 first-half points on 8-of-13 shooting, and finished with 27 points and eight rebounds.

Reserve forward Darius Songaila, who missed the first 45 games of the season with a lower back injury, played one of his best games since he made his Wizards debut. He finished with 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting in 15 minutes.

The win pushed Washington's Southeast Division lead over the surging Miami Heat to one game. Holding off the Heat over the final 19 games could depend on Butler's health.

The team went 0-3 when Butler was out with lower back spasms following the all-star break and 0-5 when he was out late last season with a thumb injury. Butler has struggled since the break concluded on Feb. 19 but has been in the midst of a career season.

A first-time all-star, Butler has posted a team-high 21 games with at least 10 points and 10 rebounds and was averaging a career-high 20.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists at the break.

Butler said stiffness in the knee has hampered his mobility and explosiveness. Following Saturday's game against the Hornets, the team opens a five-game road trip Tuesday night in Portland.

"However long it takes, that's how long it takes," Butler said. "I'm not going to be out there hurt and hurting the team. You take things personally, and the team is on a losing streak and you know what your value is. So you want to go out there and help but unfortunately I wasn't able to finish out. I'm just happy we got the win."

Until Butler returns, the scoring load will be carried by Arenas and Jamison. Jarvis Hayes, who scored seven points on 3-of-7 shooting, started the second half in place of Butler on Wednesday night.

Coach Eddie Jordan also has the option of using Andray Blatche, who was inactive Wednesday.

Arenas sparked a third-quarter run by scoring eight consecutive points, and his three-pointer with 8:23 remaining in the period gave the Wizards a 61-52 lead. He made another big shot with 7:07 remaining in the game, a three-pointer from the top of the key that gave the Wizards a 93-82 lead.

Moments later, he curled around a screen and a hit a three-pointer from the corner and then shuffled backward down court with his hands held flat out in front of him while yelling, "Hibachi!"

That basket continued a 17-5 Washington run that pushed the lead to 100-84.

Washington finished with a 33-22 edge in bench scoring and a 44-39 advantage in rebounding. Coming on the heels of consecutive last-second losses to the New York Knicks and Heat, this was a game the Wizards wanted badly.

"You've ever seen a cornered, scared cat?" Hayes asked. "That cat will come out scratching and fighting. That's the position we find ourselves in right now. We felt like we were in a corner and had to come out and do something about it."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company