By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 11, 2008
Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison are having career seasons, and their efforts have helped the Washington Wizards remain competitive in the absence of Gilbert Arenas.
However, both players rank among the league leaders in minutes played and Coach Eddie Jordan said he will watch his two captains closely when the second-place Wizards open a stretch of four games in five nights tonight at Atlanta.
After visiting the third-place Hawks, who trail the Wizards by a half-game in the Southeast Division, Washington hosts Boston on Saturday night and then faces another back-to-back set with games at Boston and New York on Monday and Tuesday.
"We know there is going to be a push, so we hope that our guys who are getting a lot of minutes aren't going to get worn down, so we're always monitoring that," Jordan said. "We know that the time is coming where we know we have to be really careful with minutes if we see some sluggish play. Caron has been carrying us. Antawn has been carrying us. Antonio [Daniels] has done a great job. . . . So we're treading water but we're paddling like crazy underwater."
Neither Butler, who is averaging a career-high 40.2 minutes per game, nor Jamison, who is averaging 39.3 minutes, feel they are being overworked and both players said they have done everything possible to prepare themselves to carry a bigger load.
Jamison is one of three Wizards, along with DeShawn Stevenson and reserve forward-center Andray Blatche, who has played in all 33 games. Butler missed one game, a 93-85 loss at Indiana on Dec. 22, with ankle sprains.
"For me, I've been at this for 10 years now so I understand what I have to do," Jamison said. "I understand what I can do and can't do, and I think as a team we understand that also. It's one of those situations where you have to give it your all [tonight] and then on Saturday, you have push through the soreness. Then it's get some rest on Sunday and do the same thing on Monday and Tuesday. You have to find a way to mentally get through it and play well."
Butler feels he is better equipped to fight off the kind of nagging injuries that started to hound him just after the all-star break last season. He missed three straight games in February with lower back soreness and six more in March with a left knee contusion.
"This year, I prepared myself over the course of the summer," Butler said. "I didn't play the last month or so of last season because of the broken hand, so I go a lot of rest. I still feel pretty fresh right now so it's not something I can't handle. . . . The key is to get a lot of rest whenever you can because we know what's in front of us."
Meanwhile, Butler and Jamison have expressed confidence that Arenas will be back before the end of the regular season. Arenas, who underwent surgery on his left knee on Nov. 21, recently said that he may return to sometime in March, but also said he is open to the idea of sitting out the remainder of the season if the knee is not healed.
"I know he likes to keep you guys [reporters] guessing, but in my mind there's no doubt that he's coming back," Jamison said.
Butler said that every time he drives to Verizon Center, he sees a banner outside saying "I'll be back."
"I go by that," he said. "Come March 1 or the second week of March, he'll be itching to come back."
Jordan also said he is optimistic that Arenas will return.
"At the end of the day, Gilbert loves to play basketball," Jordan said. "Whether it was when he was 12 years old or now when he's 26 years old, he loves to play and he's going to do everything he can, diligently, to get back when he can."
Wizards Notes: The Wizards have won 11 of the last 14 games against Atlanta, and the teams have split a pair of meetings this season. The last time the Wizards played four games in five nights, they went 2-2 (Nov. 20-24). . . .
The Wizards announced two changes to their schedule: the Feb. 10 game at Phoenix has been moved to 10:30 p.m. and will be aired on ESPN, and the Feb. 22 game at Cleveland will be at 8 p.m. and will also air on ESPN.