Forward Caron Butler will finally get a chance to make a first impression tonight, when the Washington Wizards host the Los Angeles Clippers at MCI Center.
As the Wizards (3-0) were introduced to a sellout crowd before Saturday night's home opener, Butler was forced to watch from near the team's bench.
Out with a left thigh bruise and wearing a sharp suit rather than a home uniform, Butler didn't get to participate in an elaborate pregame ceremony that featured flame-spitting torches and a hidden elevator that rose from the floor and allowed each player to descend from a stage onto a red carpet as his name was called.
"I really wanted to be out there last game," Butler said following practice at MCI Center yesterday. "I've got a little Puff Daddy in me so I wanted to come off the stage and everything. I was a little mad about that." Butler also missed Washington's only home preseason game with a groin injury.
Getting the 6-foot-7, 228-pound Butler back into the lineup should provide a boost for the Wizards because starting guard Antonio Daniels is likely to be out with a sprained left ankle.
Daniels, who rolled the ankle after coming down on the foot of Magic guard Steve Francis in the third quarter of Saturday night's game, was limited in practice yesterday and could be a game-time decision.
According to Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan, Daniels should be ready to go for Friday night's home game against his former team, the Seattle SuperSonics.
Butler was the team's second-leading scorer during the preseason and scored 11 points with 7 rebounds and 5 assists in the season-opening victory at Toronto. However, like Daniels, Butler was the victim of a freak run-in with an opponent.
As Butler raced out to contest a three-point shot by Toronto's Morris Peterson during a tight fourth quarter, Peterson's knee collided with the area just above Butler's left knee.
After a quick break, Butler returned to the game and even completed a fast break with a vicious one-handed dunk over Toronto center Chris Bosh, but the thigh swelled up later that night and Butler was limping by the next morning.
"I was anxious to get back out there, but I'm glad I listened to the [athletic] trainers and made sure that it was okay before pushing it," Butler said. "I wanted to make sure that I was all the way right. I didn't want to come out there half-stepping. I went through a full practice [yesterday] and I feel great. I was bouncy, real energetic -- a little winded -- but I feel good."
The Wizards could use Butler's scoring and physical presence with the second unit. In the first three games, 208 of the team's 272 points came from the starting unit.
During the preseason, Butler displayed a knack for coming off the bench and instantly changing the tempo of games with his ability to score on drives, post-ups or in transition.
When paired with the 6-foot-8, 220-pound Jarvis Hayes, Butler also provides Jordan with a set of big, skilled players who can play either guard or forward.
"He gives us the ability to come off the bench and score in different ways," Jordan said. "Post-ups, slashing to the basket and he brings a toughness to our defense. And he wants to win."
Winning is exactly what Butler has in mind for a three-game homestand that tips off tonight and continues Friday against Seattle and Saturday against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs.
Already 2-0 on the road, the Wizards understand the importance of taking care of business at MCI Center if they want to stay among the top teams in what could be a very competitive Eastern Conference.
The Wizards finished 29-12 at MCI Center last season. That was the best home showing by the franchise since the 1988-89 Bullets won 30 games at Capital Centre.
"In this league, with how tough it is to win on the road, you have to handle your business at home," Butler said. "We have to turn MCI into a place where teams don't want to play. If we play well, then hopefully our fans will come out all loud and crazy like they did the other night and really help us out."