- The Washington Times - Friday, October 23, 2009

Caron Butler shook his head in disbelief.

The two-time All-Star was asked about the Washington Wizards’ chemistry and their readiness for the regular season, and Butler couldn’t help but notice a familiar trend.

“You saw us the first game against Memphis down in Richmond. You saw us the second game against Dallas,” Butler said. “Then we lost Antawn [Jamison] during the Cleveland game and obviously lost Gilbert [Arenas]. We can’t all get out there for some reason. It’s unbelievable. But hopefully we can kick off the season right.”

Butler and the Wizards have one preseason game left - Friday night in Chicago - and then two more practices to prepare for the season opener Oct. 27 in Dallas. They would have liked it if they had spent the preseason reacclimating themselves to a healthy Arenas and center Brendan Haywood and working on developing chemistry with new teammates Mike Miller and Randy Foye.

Instead, Haywood missed four preseason games with a sprained ankle before returning last week. The next day, Jamison partially dislocated his right shoulder, an injury that has sidelined him for the last week. Then both Arenas and Miller missed games Monday and Tuesday with the flu.

So the Wizards will seek to take advantage of Friday’s game and the practices leading up to the Dallas matchup to sharpen their timing and get a better grasp of a new offense.

“We’ve still got lot improvements to make,” said Miller, who returned to practice Thursday along with Arenas. “But we’re getting there. Tomorrow’s going to be a good test, but we want to get through it, get through it healthy - knock on wood - but we want to get through it and get on to the opener. … Seven preseason games down, one left. You should feel pretty comfortable, but at the same time, we won’t really hit our stride until about 20 games in.”

Saunders still has some decisions to make regarding the starting lineup and regular rotation, and he’s giving his players every opportunity to help him make that decision rather than ruling people out with knee-jerk reactions.

Saunders said Thursday he still does not know whether he will name Miller, DeShawn Stevenson or Nick Young the starting shooting guard. But based on how he split his squad up in their most recent practice, when Miller and Stevenson rotated in and out at shooting guard, the coach could be leaning in the direction of his two ninth-year veterans rather than the still-developing Young.

None of the Wizards had an inkling about who will receive the nod or a full expectation of who will make Saunders’ rotation. The only two apparent locks are Randy Foye at backup point guard and Andray Blatche at power forward. And when Saunders addressed his team before practice, his message was rather clear that inconsistency won’t be tolerated.

“He had said the last couple games he didn’t like the way people came out. So I don’t know if he’s going to play five, six or seven,” Stevenson said of Saunders’ rotation. “But he was pretty mad. So we had a real hard practice.”

Saunders said the main thing he will be looking for Friday night is to emerge from the game injury-free. He’ll start Arenas and Miller in the backcourt along with Butler, Haywood and likely Fabricio Oberto in place of Jamison. Then the remaining eight healthy players will get another shot at impressing their coach.

“Whoever’s playing, we want them to play at a high level and let them play how we want them to play as far as from a philosophical standpoint,” Saunders said. “But there are still some guys we want to take a look at and see.”

Note - The Wizards cut guard Vincent Grier, a training camp invitee who had played only seven minutes in the preseason, registering just one assist. The Wizards are now carrying 15 players. The only remaining player on the roster who is not under contract is forward/center Paul Davis, who in three preseason games has averaged 4.3 points and 2.0 rebounds in 6.0 minutes an outing.

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