- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2008

DENVER — With Caron Butler sidelined with a hip injury the last two weeks, the Washington Wizards have needed a greater contribution from their bench.

But Butler’s absence also has revealed that third-year forward Andray Blatche can producing when teams concentrate on forward Antawn Jamison.

The 6-foot-11, 248-pound Blatche has used athleticism and hustle to average 16.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 34.5 minutes while starting in place of Butler in four games the last two weeks.

Blatche’s fifth start at forward since Jan. 29 came in last night’s game against the Denver Nuggets, which ended too late for this edition.

He welcomes the opportunity to help his team in an expanded role.

“I think I’ve proven I’m a guy we can go to when the situation pops up,” Blatche said. “I can bring a lot of energy and try to play as much defense as possible.”

He knows the situation is only temporary, and that he has no shot at unseating Butler — now a two-time All-Star — as a starter.

But Wizards coach Eddie Jordan would like to see the same energy out of Blatche the backup as he does in Blatche the starter.

Blatche, who has averaged 5.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.42 blocks as a reserve, agrees that he needs to increase his production off the bench but considers it easier said than done.

“It’s hard to get a rhythm [off the bench], hard to get a groove. It’s just real tough,” Blatche said. “A lot of times when I come out there guys have already gotten their sweat going and by the time I get mine going, I get taken out.

“When I’m a starter, I have a different type of swag. My mentality is totally different. I just feel like a totally different person. I play with a lot more aggression.”

Blatche, who was drafted in the second round out of South Kent Prep in Connecticut in 2005, said he is starting to discover the key to coming off the bench in a better mind-set.

“I need to get a good workout in before the game,” Blatche said. “Be warmed up before, get my mind right as if I’m starting even though I’m coming off the bench.”

Despite his inconsistency, Blatche is maturing as an NBA player.

In his rookie season Blatche mustered just 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 6.0 minutes a game. Last season he showed slight improvement, averaging 3.7 points and 3.4 rebounds in 12.2 minutes.

“I’m learning [the NBA] is more of a mental thing, more of a taking care of your body thing and being in great shape and having a strong mind,” Blatche said. “[Learning that] wasn’t easy for me. It’s been hard. But I’ve got a lot of veteran guys around me and they’re helping me out.”

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