Wizards' Standouts Stay Seated in Loss
Magic 103, Wizards 83
Thursday, April 17, 2008; Page E01
ORLANDO, April 16 -- With nothing to gain and plenty to lose if one of his stars went down with an injury, Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan took the cautious route and kept Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison on the bench for Wednesday night's regular season finale against the Orlando Magic.
That meant a lot of playing time for rookies Nick Young, Oleksiy Pecherov and Dominic McGuire, who made his first start, and a 103-83 loss to the Magic, which also had nothing on the line but nonetheless started regulars Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis.
Arenas and Butler were held out for precautionary reasons and Jamison was given the night off. DeShawn Stevenson, who has been bothered by a sore tailbone, made his 250th straight start but played only 13 minutes.
"Our top eight or nine guys are healthy, we got our young guys a little taste tonight and that's what we wanted," Jordan said. "Now it's time for the playoffs."
The NBA will not release dates and times of first-round matchups until early Thursday morning, but there has been strong speculation that the Wizards and Cavaliers would open on Saturday.
Jordan certainly sounded like a coach who expected to play Saturday.
"I'm ready to get it going," Jordan said. "I like the fact that if it is on Saturday -- and I haven't heard an official announcement -- but if it is on Saturday, we are ready to rumble and it's a good thing. Let's get it started."
It will be the third straight first-round meeting for the Wizards and Cavaliers. Cleveland won in six games in 2006 and swept the Wizards, who played without Arenas and Butler, last year.
Arenas and Jamison are healthy and ready to go while Butler said Wednesday night that he still was bothered by swelling and soreness in his right knee. He said he would have been in the lineup Wednesday night had it been a playoff game.
Butler said he expects to be ready for Game 1.
"I've been getting a lot of treatment, I'm icing it and the swelling has really gone down in the last day or two," Butler said after shooting drills before Wednesday's game. "I think that with another 48 hours or so, I'll be good to go."
Arenas, Butler and Jamison have played together in 11 games this season and only three since Arenas went out with a left knee injury on Nov. 17. Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy, who knows the Wizards well from his days as head coach of the Miami Heat, doesn't think it will be a major issue going into the playoffs.
"It's tough when you haven't been together, but they have been together in the past so it should come back quickly," Van Gundy said. "You're talking very few teams in this league that can put three all-stars on the floor together and they've got three legitimate all-stars in Jamison, Butler and Arenas, so trying to stop them is incredibly difficult."
Van Gundy cited the Wizards' defensive improvement as something that could be a factor in the playoffs. After allowing opponents to shoot 47.3 percent and average 104.9 points last season, the Wizards entered Wednesday's game allowing 99.1 points on 46.1 percent shooting.
"What I think sort of sets them apart and makes them tough is that they can really score with those three guys and they've become a much better defensive team," Van Gundy said. "[Brendan] Haywood sort of anchors the defense, Stevenson is a stopper, Antonio Daniels is a good defender, Caron Butler is a good defensive player and they are capable of winning games on the boards and they are capable of winning games offensively. They are a tough matchup for anybody."
One of the most interesting individual matchups will involve Cleveland's LeBron James and Stevenson, who called James "overrated" after a win over the Cavaliers at Verizon Center on March 13 and stood by that comment Wednesday night.
"I backed it up the night when I said he was overrated so I'm not worried about it," Stevenson said. "I am going to go out there and play my game. He will have to see me for the whole series and I am going to make it hard for him. It's going to be a really fun series."