By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Caron Butler will celebrate his 28th birthday tonight by doing what he does best: He'll suit up and play basketball.
The Wizards' all-star, who has missed 17 straight games with a left hip injury, went through a full practice yesterday without feeling any pain and will likely return to the lineup for an important game against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers at Verizon Center.
Following yesterday's practice, Butler put himself through one final test with a game of one-on-one against rookie forward Oleksiy Pecherov.
"After practice and after beating up on Pesh a little bit, I went in the back, got a little treatment and I still feel good," Butler said. "If I wake up [Thursday] feeling the same way, I'll definitely be on the court."
It remains to be seen how many minutes Butler will play and what kind of impact he can have after missing so many games, but his return comes at a particularly good time because the Wizards (31-32) are clinging to sixth place in the Eastern Conference. A win tonight would move them back to .500 for the first time since a Feb. 6 home loss to San Antonio.
The Wizards are 1-2 against Cleveland this season but will catch the Cavaliers, who lost at New Jersey last night, on a back-to-back.
"Caron is going to be probable so we add a little bit of tough juice to the lineup and we'll see how it goes," Coach Eddie Jordan said.
The Wizards are one game ahead of Philadelphia and 5 1/2 games up on Atlanta.
Several players are battling injuries as the team prepares for a tough stretch that includes tonight's game and contests against playoff-bound opponents such as Orlando, Detroit, the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah.
All-star forward Antawn Jamison has played some of the best basketball of his career in helping the Wizards stay competitive despite the absence of Butler and three-time all-star Gilbert Arenas, but he's been bothered by soreness in his lower back since last Wednesday's home loss to Orlando and did not practice yesterday.
Jamison and guard Antonio Daniels, who also did not practice after catching his left thumb on an opponent's jersey late during Tuesday's 105-97 home win over Milwaukee, are probable according to Jordan, which means that they will likely play.
Still, given the team's bad luck with injuries the last two seasons, it would somehow be fitting for the team to play without two starters on the same night that Butler returns.
"That would be bad but at the same time, if I'm feeling good, I feel like we can still pull together and get a quality win against Cleveland," Butler said. "But, I look forward to them [Jamison and Daniels] playing. They probably just needed a day or so to rest. It's amazing how the body can heal itself in 24 hours."
Butler, who is averaging a career-high 21.4 points along with 6.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.4 steals, has certainly learned about the human hip since originally suffering the injury during an overtime loss at Milwaukee on Jan. 27.
He scored a career-high 40 points that night but took an awkward fall while making a layup late in the game and woke up the next day with pain and stiffness. The injury was originally diagnosed as a strained hip flexor but an MRI exam taken two weeks ago revealed a slight tear in the labrum, a condition that sometimes requires surgery.
After everything he's experienced, Butler sounds like a medical expert when discussing his injury now.
"I know what positions aggravate it and I know what the symptoms are," Butler said. "I know the best doctors in the world. I did my research as well and I know what to look for: MRIs, X-rays and everything. It's a small injury, so sometimes you feel great. You'll have no symptoms and then all of a sudden it's like bam, you can't move."
In recent days, Butler met with a hip specialist who worked him through a series of exercise routines that tested the hip and surrounding muscles. Those tests have Butler feeling cautiously optimistic that the worst is behind him heading into tonight's game.
"I'm going to be rugged and hard-nosed," Butler said. "That's my style and that's what the fans come to see. That's my niche. That's how I got my name in this league."