Butler, Jamison Shouldering Load For Ailing Wizards

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 3, 2007

The first half was coming to an end Saturday and Washington Wizards guard DeShawn Stevenson launched a shot from just inside the half-court line. The ball rattled around the rim and rolled in, and Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan immediately began running toward the scorer's table. Jordan wasn't checking to see if the shot counted -- it didn't -- he was examining Caron Butler, who had collided with Stevenson before the shot.

Hunched over and holding his midsection, Butler leaned up enough to pat Jordan on the back to inform that he was all right. But as he jogged off the court, Butler stopped again, bent over, grabbed his shorts and grimaced. While Earl Monroe's jersey was lifted to the rafters in an emotional halftime ceremony, Butler was in the locker room, working to get back on the floor. "I was a little tight in the stomach area," Butler said, "but they got me stretched out and feeling well."

Butler returned in the second half to finish with 29 points as the Wizards beat Toronto, 101-97, but Jordan's concern was understandable. With Gilbert Arenas out at least three months following knee surgery, Etan Thomas out indefinitely with a heart ailment and rookie Oleksiy Pecherov out another two weeks with a broken right foot, the last thing he and the Wizards needed was another banged-up player -- especially one of his all-stars.

The Wizards' roster is down to just 10 healthy players and there are no plans to add anyone else with the team already approaching the luxury tax threshold ($67.85 million) and President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld under strict orders from owner Abe Pollin not to exceed the limit. The players are conscious of the situation, but so far fatigue hasn't been a concern.

"Not yet. I don't think we would feel it this month," said forward Antawn Jamison, who backed out of participating with Team USA this summer to be fresher for this season. "Once you get into January and definitely February, you're going to feel it more. By that time, Pesh will be back. It's a long season. You have to learn how to recuperate your body and go through the rigors of 82. Sometimes it's difficult."

After playing six games over nine days, the Wizards will play seven of their next eight games at home and won't play back-to-back games until Dec. 21-22. They won't play again until Wednesday against Cleveland.

"I've been looking forward to December," said Butler, who leads the team in minutes played this season. Butler and Jamison both are averaging more than 39 minutes per game and they are the only teammates to rank in the top 10 in minutes played.

"Mentally and physically we're great," Butler said. "We understand that during the course of the season, sometimes things happen. We've been dealt a lot of different things but we just stayed positive and kept moving forward."

The Wizards have gone 8-4 since starting the season 0-5, with all but three of those victories coming without Arenas. Butler and Jamison have combined to form the fourth-highest scoring duo in the NBA at 44.9 points per game this season. But in the past nine games without Arenas, they are averaging 49 points per game -- or 45.9 percent of the Wizards' offensive production.

"It's been incredible," Jordan said of his co-captains. Defenses "are making it hard for them to make their one-on-one moves, but they are getting it done. Antawn is on the glass. Caron is out on the break. It's a credit to them that they stay aggressive and yet still play team basketball."

After recording his 11th double-double of the season with 28 points and 14 rebounds against the Raptors on Saturday, Jamison laughed when someone asked if they were out to remind people that Wizards still have two all-stars on the roster.

"If I still have to remind people of that," Jamison said, without finishing his statement. "I'm having the most fun in my 10-year career. It's unfortunate that Gilbert is not out there participating. We hope and pray that everything heals and he comes back and helps us out.

"But Caron understands it, I understand it. Not only us two, but everybody has to step up. Whether it's [Andray Blatche] coming in and being big for us [or] Brendan [Haywood] rebounding and playing defense the way he's playing. We know we have to be aggressive, because offensively, we know we cannot replace what Gilbert did out there on the court. We have to play differently."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company