Wizards Look to Their Veterans

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 23, 2007

Some will dismiss the Washington Wizards as playoff contenders now that Gilbert Arenas is expected to be sidelined at least three months after re-injuring his left knee, but Charlotte Bobcats Coach Sam Vincent doesn't feel that way.

Following his team's 114-111 overtime loss to the Wizards Wednesday night in Charlotte, Vincent said Washington (6-5) still has plenty to be thankful for.

"You can play close but at some point, the sheer toughness mentally to make the big play takes over," Vincent said. "That's what the next level of team is about. It's why they get 45 to 50 wins and make the playoffs."

Vincent was referring to forwards Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, who combined for 66 points Wednesday and must continue to come up big if the Wizards want to build on their winning streak.

The Wizards host the Golden State Warriors tonight at Verizon Center before opening a four-game road trip tomorrow night in Memphis. Their six-game winning streak is the team's longest since they rolled off seven straight between Jan. 2 and 15, 2005.

Butler kept the current run alive by scoring a career-high 39 points and making a crucial three-pointer in overtime; Jamison added 27 points and 12 rebounds and also had a key basket in overtime.

Those two -- along with Antonio Daniels and veterans such as DeShawn Stevenson, Brendan Haywood, Darius Songaila and third-year center Andray Blatche, who scored a career-high 26 points in Tuesday's win over Philadelphia -- must be at or near the top of their games on a regular basis.

The team has won three straight without Arenas, who underwent surgery to repair a partial tear in his left meniscus Wednesday afternoon, but even when he had a hand in getting the winning streak started, the key for the Wizards was a formula that has included crisp ball movement, few turnovers, an active defense and timely shot-making.

"We are showing a lot of character, on and off the court," said Butler, who is averaging a career-high 21.6 points. "Our approach to the game is a lot more serious. During the five-game losing streak, we weren't as focused, but now we seem to be a lot more focused, and we are continuing to keep our eyes on the prize."

Still, obstacles must be overcome. The starters all played heavy minutes Wednesday (Blatche started in place of Haywood, who said he may play tonight if his sprained left ankle feels better) and it's hard to imagine that changing.

The bench rotation will include Blatche, Songaila and Roger Mason, but after that, Coach Eddie Jordan will have to turn to rookies Nick Young and Dominic McGuire.

Rookie forward-center Oleksiy Pecherov, who has been out since the end of October with a hairline fracture in his right ankle, is at least two weeks from returning to practice and center Etan Thomas is out indefinitely after undergoing open-heart surgery in October.

The team dressed only nine players Wednesday night and though Haywood could return as soon as tonight, running a normal practice will be a challenge for Jordan unless the team elects to go over the luxury tax threshold by signing another player.

"We've been very creative in trying to prepare our team with the number of players we have," Jordan said.

Wizards Note: A three-month timetable has been set for Arenas's possible return to practice and Arenas said he plans on taking a more cautious approach to his rehabilitation after pushing himself following left knee surgery last April.

In addition to repairing Arenas's left medial meniscus during Wednesday's procedure, team doctor Marc Connell also repaired what he described as a defect in the bone on the side of the knee. That procedure included the use of microfracture surgery, but it was on a non-weight-bearing bone and is different than procedures done on NBA stars such as Jason Kidd and Amare Stoudemire.

"Looking back on it, I probably went too hard and didn't give myself enough rest," Arenas said. "I just wanted to get back so bad, I did everything I could. I'm going to take my time, listen to the doctors and make sure everything is right this time."

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