- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Wizards have come to be all thumbs in the absence of Caron Butler’s right thumb.

Most NBA teams are missing a piece. The Wizards are missing a thumb, which at least beats being with the Lakers and under the thumb of Kobe Bryant.

The Wizards are down to four games and a daily prayer said in behalf of the injured thumb belonging to Butler.

He is unable to grip a basketball.

He could try pretending at this point.

The Wizards are 0-4 without Butler’s thumb, usually the least worrisome of a player’s body parts, certainly following knees, ankles and bones.

Seasons rarely change on the condition of a thumb, although the Wizards are endeavoring to be the exception.

They were courting the prospect of a postseason date with Larry Hughes until Butler injured his thumb in Boston nine days ago. Now they just would like to receive the go-ahead to don their playoff T-shirts and worry about the particulars later.

It has been a dark time for the Wizards since Boston, the loss to the Heat excluded, because the Wizards would not be able to defeat the Heat if Peter John Ramos dumped 50 points on Shaquille O’Neal.

The dip points to their fragility and the worthiness of Butler, who is either the team’s No.2 or 3 player, depending on the accuracy of Antawn Jamison’s 3-pointer.

Butler is certainly one of the team’s toughest players, unmoved by an elbow to the cranium in Sacramento that required six stitches. He shook off the fog and met the physical force of Ron Artest, a bully who sometimes blinks in the face of a challenge, as bullies often do.

Butler has been better than advertised and stands as a testament to Ernie Grunfeld’s ability to get something for nothing, in this case the nothingness of Kwame Brown.

Butler is among the team’s leaders in a number of statistical categories and is ever eager to plant his chiseled figure in the path of an opponent. He has had his defensive moments against both Bryant and Paul Pierce and has shown himself to be a reliable perimeter shooter.

His contributions possibly would have reversed the outcome of three of the four losses: Atlanta, Philadelphia and Milwaukee.

This unsettling stretch comes after the Wizards appeared to have found their nectar on the West Coast. They punctuated the 3-3 trip with victories over the Knicks and Celtics and encouraged the notion that they would be a problem to the Cavaliers in the playoffs.

That comforting sense has evolved into a dull ache and a thumbs-down.

Even the Hasidic sight of Jared Jeffries thumbing his nose at the scouting report has not resulted in the Wizards pulling themselves up from the muck.

The Lincolnesque Jeffries was not a scorer until the last two games, which could be an indication that he is in a contract season or that his beard is having a Samson-like effect.

The thumb is not the team’s only mitigating circumstance.

The Wizards confirm that two bad backs don’t make a right.

The Poet was seemingly coming out of his two-season funk after being inserted into the starting lineup in place of the 7-foot Diva, only to tweak his back and miss two games.

The back followed his tedious recovery from a nearly terminal abdominal strain that ended up being one for the “Mayo Clinic Family Health Book.”

Gilbert Arenas has elected to play through his discomfort after straining his back near the end of the first quarter against the Hawks. A 75-percent Arenas is better than most anyway.

For the Wizards, it all adds up to one bad thumb, two bad backs, four losses in a row and a profound sense of unease with four games left.

If it helps the faithful, the Wizards overcame a similar situation last April, when they lost five in a row at one point.

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