- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2006

Gilbert Arenas knows his sprained lower back puts him in a sticky situation.

While it hasn’t prevented him from scoring 71 points in the Wizards’ last two games, Arenas walks at a snail’s pace when he’s not on the court, accepting the injury might bother him for the rest of the season and into the playoffs.

Antonio Daniels, meanwhile, grimaces with pain whenever anyone slaps his sprained left wrist.

All of a sudden, the Wizards (39-37) have some injury concerns. They aren’t broken down, but they are more banged up right now than they have been at any point in the season.

Daniels and Arenas likely will both play tonight against a Philadelphia team fighting for a playoff berth, but starting center Etan Thomas (sprained back) and starting small forward Caron Butler (sprained thumb) are far less likely to play.

“The situation with Caron, maybe it’s best that you rest him,” Wizards forward Antawn Jamison said. “Let’s be honest, the most important thing is the playoffs — that’s what it’s all about.

“I still think we have enough to continue and make it in [the playoffs] as the fifth seed. But you have to be smart because we are going to need those guys for playoff basketball. We’ve just have to go out and play better defense than we’ve been playing lately.”

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan indicated on Saturday before the Wizards’ 99-86 loss to the Heat that Thomas could be out for as long as a week. Butler was set to play Saturday, but the pain in his right hand still prevents him from holding the ball securely.

That said, Jordan doesn’t expect to see his team let up.

“We should be able to execute our plays and defend,” he said. “We’re missing two guys, but it’s not hampering us and preventing us from doing what we are doing.

“This is what playing big-time sports is about. You’ve got to suck some of it up and go out and perform, and execute, fight and be physical and get through it.”

With six games left in the regular season, the Wizards’ players are now clearly pointing toward the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and a meeting with LeBron James, former teammate Larry Hughes and the Cleveland Cavaliers (46-30), who are locked into the fourth seed.

Washington is currently seeded fifth, 2 games ahead of Milwaukee (37-40).

Although the Wizards are not assuming an arrogant posture, it’s understandable why they are optimistic about reaching the playoffs for the second straight season, a feat they haven’t accomplished since five consecutive appearances from 1984 to 1988.

Despite the injuries, the Wizards continue to play better than the two teams — Milwaukee and Indiana — still within striking distance of them.

Despite their two-game losing streak, the Wizards are 5-5 in their last 10 games. Meanwhile, the Bucks and the Pacers (36-40) — both losers yesterday — have gone a combined 5-15 during the same stretch. The Bucks have dropped four straight, the Pacers two.

After tonight’s game in Philadelphia, the Wizards will play Milwaukee twice in the next week — there on Wednesday and at home on April 18 in the next-to-last day of the regular season, which ends in Detroit.

“The one thing I like about this situation is that we are in control of our own destiny,” Jamison said. “The bottom line is we’ve just got to win basketball games. That’s the way it is for everybody. We’ve got to do our job. If we do everything else will take care of itself.”

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