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Only a Big Two, now

- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2007

Antawn Jamison has been the overlooked one amid the national ascent of Gilbert Arenas and the All-Star push of Caron Butler.

Jamison has been undervalued and underexposed as one of the Big Three, despite impressive numbers and an important presence in the locker room.

His value to the Wizards was unmistakable in Toronto, where the team played its first game without him.

Jamison would not have stymied the assault of Chris Bosh.

But perhaps Bosh would not have been so comfortable in the presence of the Big Three instead of the Big Two and a slew of question marks.

The absence of Jamison sent a shiver down the collective spine of the Wizards and altered their sense of confidence.

The Raptors undoubtedly picked up on it and performed at an anxiety-free level.

The shakiness of the Wizards was exemplified by the early shot attempt of DeShawn Stevenson that nearly shattered the backboard.

The ball appeared to have been shot out of a cannon, possibly the result of a player feeling an urge to ease the Jamison-induced void.

It is no secret that supporting players find it far more difficult to make shots if one of the team's leading scorers is out of the lineup.

The spacing on the floor becomes problematic, for there is one fewer piece to spread the floor and attract the attention of the defense.

Calvin Booth is always going to have the open 18-footer, because teams prefer to gamble on the percentages of Booth hitting a bunch of shots than Arenas or Butler.

Teams logically conclude that Booth is not going to dump 20 points on them.

The Wizards looked disjointed against the Raptors, as expected.

Arenas looked disjointed as well in the first half, which was not expected.

All of this contributed to a general listlessness on both ends of the floor, as evidenced by the Raptors being granted a staggering number of open shots and accepting the invitation to take a daunting lead early.

Jamison is no stalwart on defense, but the capacity of the Wizards to play a modicum of defense has increased in recent weeks.

His absence broke the spirit of the Wizards, if only for one game.

It is unfortunate that an injury has prompted those outside the organization to acknowledge the worth of Jamison.

The Wizards already knew the essentialness of Jamison, as Ernie Grunfeld said last week.

"He does what he does, and it is as if he is taken for granted," Grunfeld said. "He is having an All-Star season, but no one [in the media] has really discussed that."

The status of Jamison is now discussion topic No. 1.

Jamison is expected to be out 3-6 weeks following an MRI on his sprained left knee yesterday.

The timetable is open to interpretation, if not a way to soften the deflating news.

The sight of Stevenson knocking knees with Jamison has changed the mood from uplifting to dispiriting. Before the Stevenson-Jamison collision, the talk was of the Wizards being atop the Eastern Conference and securing a coaching spot for Eddie Jordan in the All-Star Game.

Now the Wizards again are being asked to hold firm in the clutches of adversity, an unsettling prospect in the past.

The Wizards lost five in a row with Butler out of the lineup late last season.

Two seasons ago, the Wizards struggled in the absence of Larry Hughes and later Brendan Haywood.

Jordan is hoping Jarvis Hayes finds his missing jump shot in Jamison's absence, Andray Blatche finds a measure of comfort on the floor and Darius Songaila finds his way to the lineup.

Arenas and Butler also are obligated not to have sub-par performances.

The fragility of the Wizards was obvious enough with Jamison in the lineup.

Now the team is confronted with a serious challenge that it has struggled with in the past.

Such is the tenuous nature of the NBA.