By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Washington Wizards guard Antonio Daniels is expected to miss two to four weeks with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee, an injury he suffered during Thursday night's 104-91 victory over the Miami Heat.
The injury occurred during the second quarter but Daniels continued to play and finished with 11 points, 5 assists and 2 rebounds, helping the Wizards snap a 10-game losing streak in Miami.
The Wizards (12-10) have won three straight and have gone 9-5 since three-time all-star Gilbert Arenas suffered a knee injury on Nov. 16. Daniels has averaged 11 points and 6.6 assists per game since taking Arenas's spot in the starting lineup. For the season, Daniels is averaging 8.2 points and 5.1 assists in 30.1 minutes.
With Daniels out, the Wizards are left with nine healthy players for tonight's game against the Sacramento Kings. Wheaton native and former University of Virginia star Roger Mason Jr. is one option to start in Daniels's place for Coach Eddie Jordan. Another option could be rookie first-round pick Nick Young.
Daniels's knee problem is the most recent setback for the Wizards, who have played without veteran center Etan Thomas since he underwent heart surgery in October. The team has also been without rookie forward Oleksiy Pecherov, who suffered a hairline fracture in his right ankle in late October and is expected to miss at least two to three more weeks. The team entered the regular season with 13 active players, two fewer than the league maximum, because it is just below the luxury tax threshold of $67.86 million. Teams that go over the threshold must pay a dollar-for-dollar tax, which after the season is redistributed among the teams that stayed under the threshold.
An extended absence could also threaten the chemistry that Coach Eddie Jordan cited as a key reason for the team's success without Arenas.
"It's not just one or two guys carrying us," Jordan said. "And as much as we talk about Caron [Butler] and Antawn [Jamison] getting the scoring opportunities, other guys are playing at a high level. It is spreading. It's contagious, the confidence and the camaraderie. We said that when this thing started. Our camaraderie is a big issue here, and it has carried us."
That balance had been on display during crucial stages of recent wins over the Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves and New Jersey Nets. In each of those games, an opponent cut into a sizable lead, but the Wizards kept their composure and made the necessary plays at both ends of the floor to seal the win.
In the past, it was possible to call a play for Arenas, spread the floor and allow him to make something happen. And typically, Arenas got it done.
Jordan calls such moments "winning time," but with Arenas out for at least another two months, other players have taken turns making the big plays. On Thursday night, DeShawn Stevenson hit a clutch three-pointer from the top of the key that halted a Miami run and gave the Wizards a 12-point cushion with just under five minutes to play.
In Sunday's win over New Jersey, Butler broke open a close game by scoring 10 straight points; and in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's win over Minnesota, Jamison and Brendan Haywood scored during an important 7-0 run.
"We miss Gilbert, that's obvious," said Stevenson, who finished with a season-high 26 points and made a career-high six three-pointers in Thursday's win. "He's one of the best players in the league, a guy who can go out and get 50 on a given night so, you aren't going to replace that. Until he gets back, it's going to have to be different guys on different nights stepping up and making big plays. That's what we're getting right now."
Just as he displayed no signs of panicking during the 0-5 start to the season, Jordan hasn't become giddy over his team's recent stretch of strong play.
He has been around the NBA long enough -- first as a player who owns a championship ring with the Lakers, and now as a coach, -- to think that his team can be better without a player such as Arenas.
"In order for us to go to that next level, we need Gilbert Arenas. No doubt about it. It is what it is right now. We're playing our tails off."
Wizards Notes: Evidently fans nationwide have not noticed the fine seasons being turned in by Butler and Jamison, because neither player is getting much love in all-star voting. The first all-star voting returns were released on Thursday and among Eastern Conference forwards, Butler ranks ninth in voting while Jamison isn't doesn't rank in the top 11.
Among the forwards with more votes than Butler and Jamison, were Detroit's Tayshaun Prince, Orlando's Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu and Milwaukee rookie Yi Jianlian. Boston's Kevin Garnett, who is listed as a forward, leads all players in total votes.
Butler was added to the East squad as a reserve for the 2007 All-Star Game, while Jamison was a reserve for the 2005 All-Star Game. Meanwhile, Arenas ranks fifth among East guards. Fan voting for the Feb. 17 game, which will be played in New Orleans, continues through Jan. 20. and Starters will be announced Jan. 24. Coaches from each conference will then select the reserves.
"That's something I don't even worry about," Jamison said. "Right now, all I care about is getting those wins. As long as we do that, everything will take care of itself." . . .
Fans who bring a new, unwrapped toy to tonight's game against the Sacramento Kings will receive one ticket to a future home game.