By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 3, 2008
Caron Butler would love nothing more than to suit up today against the Los Angeles Lakers, for whom he played during the 2004-05 season, but the Washington Wizards' two-time all-star forward did not practice yesterday and was not sure if his strained left hip flexor will loosen up enough to allow him to play.
Butler has missed three straight games and the Wizards have struggled, going 1-2 after Friday night's 96-87 home loss to the Utah Jazz.
"It feels a lot better than it did [Friday] so that's a good thing," Butler said. "I was able to go out there and do some shooting, move around a little bit and test it so now it's just a matter of seeing how it feels in the morning. But you always want to go out there and face your former team. I hate missing any games but I'd really like to be in this one."
With Gilbert Arenas already out with a left knee injury, Butler's importance to the Wizards never has been more obvious. The team is 7-23 without Butler since he arrived via a trade that sent Kwame Brown to the Lakers during the summer of 2005.
However, Butler and Coach Eddie Jordan do not want to aggravate or prolong the injury by rushing him back too quickly.
After facing the Lakers today, the Wizards play at the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday, host the defending champion San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday and then open a four-game road trip at the Denver Nuggets on Friday.
"He didn't do anything that was high impact and physical," Jordan said of Butler's workout yesterday. "He didn't get into a four- or five- or six-minute scrimmage and that's why I'm very hesitant. I have not seen him get contact and I haven't seen him change direction in competition. As a coach, you always like to see a guy get through practice."
If Butler can't go, third-year forward Andray Blatche will make his fourth straight start. Along with all-star forward Antawn Jamison, who posted 31 points and eight rebounds, and point guard Antonio Daniels, who scored 18 points, Blatche played well against the Jazz on Friday night, finishing with 19 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks and 3 steals in just more than 40 minutes.
In four starts this season, Blatche has played with more aggression and confidence. In 41 games as a substitute, Blatche is averaging 5.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks while shooting 45.1 percent in 17.6 minutes. As a starter, he's averaging 15.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.2 blocks while shooting 50 percent in 35.3 minutes.
"I just think that when I know I'm going to be starting, I focus better and just come out with more energy," Blatche said. "It's like I know that I have to come in and play well to help the team and that's what I'm trying to do, whether it's rebounding, blocking a shot or scoring."
The Lakers, meanwhile, are coming off an impressive win at Toronto on Friday night and also received a major boost in the form of a trade that swapped a package, including Brown, for 2006 all-star Pau Gasol.
Gasol was in Los Angeles yesterday undergoing a routine physical and is expected to be in Washington this morning prior to the noon tip-off. However, Lakes Coach Phil Jackson yesterday said he was unsure whether Gasol would be available to play.
The Lakers had eight players in uniform for Friday's 121-101 win at Toronto, but Kobe Bryant more than picked up any slack by scoring 46 points on 19-of-28 shooting. Handling Bryant and getting more out of an offense that has struggled without Butler will be the keys to success today for the Wizards, who shot 36.6 percent in a 122-83 loss at Toronto on Wednesday night.
"I've got to do a better job of getting guys scoring opportunities," Jordan said. "It's easy to get Antawn there but I've got to get a better job of getting Roger [Mason Jr.] some opportunities coming off screens with the ball and without the ball, maybe look at Nick [Young] a little earlier. So I have to do better job of creating some scoring for us."