By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 22, 2007
CHARLOTTE, Nov. 21 -- The mood was subdued inside the Washington Wizards' locker room before Wednesday night's game against the Charlotte Bobcats, as word spread that Gilbert Arenas underwent surgery on his left knee earlier in the day and is expected to miss at least three months.
Once game time arrived, the Wizards showed that they don't plan on falling apart without their three-time all-star.
Riding a career-high 39-point performance from forward Caron Butler, the Wizards overcame a flurry of late mistakes to emerge with a 114-111 overtime victory.
Antawn Jamison had 27 points and 12 rebounds for the Wizards, and Antonio Daniels finished with a season-high 14 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.
It was the sixth straight win for the Wizards (6-5) and third straight without the services of Arenas, who also missed Saturday's win over Portland and Tuesday's win over Philadelphia.
Raymond Felton led the Bobcats (6-5) with 27 points and 12 assists.
After missing a difficult jumper that would have won the game as time expired in regulation, Butler hit the game's biggest shot: a three-pointer that gave the Wizards a 111-105 lead with 2 minutes 5 seconds remaining in overtime.
The shot was set up when Roger Mason skipped taking a difficult attempt and passed out to Butler, who had his feet set and was in perfect position to receive the ball.
"It was a veteran play," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "Roger had the mind to make the extra pass with the shot clock coming down and he did it. He could have pulled up and taken a tough shot. That was a big play for us."
That shot should have been a game-clincher, but the Wizards had problems handling Charlotte's pressure and turnovers on four of six possessions allowed the Bobcats to creep to 112-111 following a dunk by Emeka Okafor with 17.8 seconds left.
The Wizards handled the press on the next inbounds play and Butler made two free throws with 15.5 seconds remaining. They played sound defense on the ensuing possession and forced a three-point attempt by Gerald Wallace, who was defended closely by DeShawn Stevenson. The shot fell short with 4.9 seconds left.
But the Wizards made it hard on themselves again when Stevenson missed a pair free throws with 1.4 seconds left. After a timeout, the Bobcats set up for one more shot, but Matt Carroll's attempt at a game-tying three-pointer from the corner glanced off the backboard as time expired.
It is no secret that the Wizards will rely heavily on Butler, Jamison, Daniels, Stevenson and Darius Songaila as well as third-year forward Andray Blatche in Arenas's absence, and all of those players carried big minutes Wednesday night.
Center Brendan Haywood was out after spraining his left ankle in Tuesday's win over Philadelphia but said he could play Friday night against Golden State.
"We said before the game that we felt good and we had to pull it together," said Butler, whose previous career high was 38. "The veteran guys had to be ready and we just all rallied together and did whatever we had to do to get the win."
The six-game winning streak is the team's longest since the 2004-05 season, but things will become more challenging from here.
The absences of Arenas and Haywood, as well as those of Etan Thomas and rookie Oleksiy Pecherov, left the Wizards with only nine healthy players Wednesday.
Haywood will be back and Pecherov could return to practice in two weeks, but the depleted roster could make it difficult to conduct regular practices.
Over the summer, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said the team would not exceed the luxury tax threshold ($67.9 million), and that is why the team entered the season with 13 players, two fewer than the league maximum.
While he did not rule out the possibility of adding a player, Grunfeld acknowledged the obvious when he said that the Wizards aren't going to easily fill the shoes of Arenas.
"We have to do it collectively; young players will get the opportunity to play," Grunfeld said. "It's just not possible to replace a guy like Gilbert. We have shown that we can be competitive and I think we will continue to do so. We'll explore all of our possibilities but we just aren't replacing Gilbert Arenas in the lineup."