By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Caron Butler has been good all season, but on Sunday he was great. The two-time all-star helped snap a three-game losing streak by scoring Washington's final 15 points and making a game-winning jumper to wrap up a sorely needed 119-117 win over Indiana.
That Butler hasn't appeared much this season and it's one of the reasons why he, along with Antawn Jamison, was passed over as a reserve for the Eastern Conference all-star squad.
The Wizards (11-40) have won consecutive games only once all season and own the fewest wins in the league along with the Sacramento Kings, a team that also does not have an all-star representative.
"Like I've said, I know I'm an all-star," said Butler, who has scored 30 or more points eight times this season, which is already a career high for the seventh-year forward. "Obviously, the record don't prove that and that's why we're in the position we're in, myself and Antawn. But we're going to continue to perform as all-stars and lead this team."
Sunday's game was illustrative of just how thin a margin interim coach Ed Tapscott and his coaching staff is working with.
Butler scored a season-high 35 points and Jamison added a season-high 34, yet the Wizards had to squeeze out a last-second home win over a Pacers team that is 13 games under .500.
Apart from Butler's late-game heroics and Jamison's big scoring effort, the keys to the win were getting 20 points from second-year guard Nick Young and playing good enough team defense to get a few crucial stops down the stretch.
Those two things, having a third scorer and defense in crucial situations, have been absent for much of the season as Tapscott has leaned on a playing rotation that includes career role players who have been cast into prominent roles (Mike James and Darius Songaila) and inexperienced players who are learning as they go (Young, Dominic McGuire, Javaris Crittenton and rookie JaVale McGee).
"It's a lot easier when you have some balance on the floor," Tapscott said. "If you think about it, Antawn represents our best inside threat, Caron is our best mid-range guy and Nick is our deepest shooter. For whatever reason, [Sunday] we had that balance. That's what we're striving to get. But again, consistency of performance is easier for vets like Caron and Antawn and we're searching for those young guys to bring something. And they're coming. As we've said, there is no substitute for experience and that will come over time."Blatche Update
Forward-center Andray Blatche, who has missed seven straight games with a left knee strain, showed up hoping to play Sunday. He suited up but was told by Tapscott that he would not play after team trainers determined Blatche needed more time.
After testing the knee in practice yesterday, Blatche agreed that not playing was the right thing and said he will likely remain out until after the all-star break, which begins Thursday and concludes Monday.
The team's first post-all-star break game is next Tuesday against Minnesota. Blatche suffered the injury on a collision with the Suns' Shaquille O'Neal on Jan. 26.
"In my head, it was healthier than I thought," said Blatche, who averaged 10.1 points and 5.4 rebounds in 44 games with 23 starts, all of them at center. "I thought I could play [Sunday] and I came in [yesterday] and did about 10 minutes in the first half of practice and the pain and aggravation just came to it. My plan is to stay here over the break and do a lot of treatment and try to get back right after the all-star break."Inconsistent Hawks
While the Wizards have consistently struggled, the Hawks enter tonight's game with a solid 29-21 record and are well positioned for a second straight playoff appearance and the first winning mark since 1997-98. But inconsistency has been a problem for Coach Mike Woodson's club.
The Hawks are coming off an ugly 121-97 home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night, an outing that added to a season-long trend. Nine of Atlanta's 21 losses have come against teams that were below .500 in the standings when they beat the Hawks. The Wizards haven't been so successful against their Southeast Division rival.
On Nov. 19 in Atlanta, the Hawks won 91-87 to drop the Wizards to 1-8 and on Nov. 29 at Verizon Center, the Hawks pulled away late to win, 102-98, in Tapscott's third game as interim coach.
It's a far cry from the days when the Wizards owned the Hawks. Between 2005, when the Wizards broke a long playoff drought, and last season, when the Wizards made their fourth straight playoff appearance, they went 12-4 against Atlanta.
With players such as Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford, the Hawks are among the most explosive teams in the league.
"They're very athletic and long," Tapscott said of the Hawks. "They have skill at just about every position. Our key is to take away the athletic plays and make them make basketball plays. What's the difference? Well, athletic plays are the ones they make above the rim where they have a physical advantage because they're higher than your guys. Basketball plays are where you pressure the ball and they can't get that easy pass and they have to work into post-up, they have to find cutters, they have to swing the ball. Make them work hard and you have a chance for success."