Caron Butler says he's 'ready to play, man' as the Washington Wizards prepare to face the Cleveland Cavaliers

By Michael Lee
Tuesday, November 3, 2009

When the Washington Wizards started losing some steam last Friday in Atlanta, Caron Butler spotted a loose ball rolling on the court, but he also saw an opportunity. By saving the ball and the possession, Butler thought he could possibly rile up his teammates and shift momentum back in favor of his team.

But in the process of providing a momentary spark, Butler came up with more than floor burns after he dived for a rebound and alertly called a timeout late in the first quarter against the Hawks.

Butler continued to play, but after sitting on the bench in the second quarter, he stood up in pain and with a limp, the result of a bone bruise on his left kneecap that cost him the entire second half of the Wizards' loss to the Hawks and the home opener the next night against New Jersey.

"As a leader of the ballclub, you want to do something to get the squad back going," Butler said. "Sometimes you get a steal, get the dunk or something, just to get us excited. I tried diving [for] the ball, and I was able to make the play, but unfortunately felt it. I didn't feel it that moment -- guess I was still hyped, patting myself on the back for that hustle."

Butler played the role of well-dressed cheerleader as he applauded and gave teammates high-fives during the Wizards' 123-104 win over the Nets in the home opener Saturday. But after participating in practice on Monday, Butler proclaimed himself ready to return for the Wizards' first game against arch-rival Cleveland.

"I feel a little sore now, but it looks like I'll be able to go," Butler said. "I'm just ready to play, man. I'm motivated to play. I want to be out there with my guys."

Butler said he was disappointed to miss even one game, especially with Antawn Jamison already sidelined with a right shoulder injury suffered during the preseason in Cleveland, where he tried to foul and prevent Cavaliers reserve center Zydrunas Ilgauskas from making an uncontested layup.

Butler was upset, given the work he did this offseason to become more durable, making sure his body was prepared to handle the rigors of an 82-game season. He changed his diet, cut back on his consumption of Mountain Dew, and arrived in camp 11 pounds lighter and in the best shape of his career.

"It's frustrating when you have injuries and you worked as hard as I do in the summer. My goal is to not miss games, and be out there as much as possible," said Butler, who has missed 58 games with various ailments the past three seasons. "Not to be out there [for the home opener] is frustrating for me. Even though we won and I'm there patting everyone on the back because we did so many great things, still it's frustrating. I look to be out there the next game or so and be healthy and be out there the duration of the season."

He was relieved the results of the X-rays and MRI exam were negative. "I was very scared initially, because a little stiffness, soreness, little swelling don't feel right. And when you've had any problems with your knees, your alertness goes up," said Butler, who had left knee surgery during his second season with the Miami Heat. "But I'm okay."

And Butler will immediately be put to the test. Butler goes from nursing a sore knee to having to guard the NBA's most valuable player in LeBron James, then lining up against Dwyane Wade the following night.

"You don't get a night off," Butler said. "You play LeBron. Next night you've got D-Wade. Come back, next you've got Danny Granger, after that, Phoenix, you've got Jason Richardson. It's always going to be someone thrilling and exciting, and ones that are going to be overly aggressive on the wings, it's just the nature of the playing. So if I'm healthy, I'm playing."

The Cavaliers won 66 games last season, added Shaquille O'Neal last summer and recently welcomed back guard Delonte West, who had been dealing with some personal problems in recent months. After losing their first two games of the season, the Cavaliers have won their past two and Coach Flip Saunders said the game should serve as a decent test.

"It's good you find out where you're at. You can't get caught up in the hype," Saunders said. "It will be a hostile environment, a high-energy, intense game. So I think it's something that players will look forward to. I think you can't put too much into any game. I think that from our standpoint, we still don't have [Antawn], so you're not going to put your total emphasis as far as where you think your team is going to be."

But at least the Wizards should be able to go in with another weapon. "It's always good to see Caron back," center Brendan Haywood said. "We're trying to get all of our all-stars back, the whole Big Three back and really get things rolling and see how it all fits when we're playing together."

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