- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2006

The pain in his sprained right thumb, it now appears, doesn’t matter to Caron Butler. He wants to rejoin his Washington Wizards teammates and finish what they started.

Although no one expects him to be 100 percent, Butler likely will get a chance to contribute tonight when the Wizards (39-40) play host to the Cleveland Cavaliers (48-31) at Verizon Center.

“It’s been real hard knowing that I’m in a situation where the doctor, the trainer are holding me back and telling me that I can’t go out there,” said Butler, who has missed the Wizards’ five straight losses with the injury. “So it’s hard seeing my brothers go out there falling short, and I think I can get us over the hump.”

After last night’s games, the Wizards were alone in the No. 5 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race but have not clinched a playoff berth.

However, the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks, who are tied for sixth place at 39-41, both clinched playoff spots despite losses last night. Both teams clinched because the Philadelphia 76ers (37-43) lost to the Orlando Magic 102-97.

The Wizards have not clinched because they still would lose a three-way tie with the 76ers and Chicago Bulls (38-41). Washington needs a win or a Philadelphia loss to clinch a playoff berth.

Whatever happens, the Wizards’ potential for reaching the playoffs for the second straight season — something that hasn’t happened since the franchise made the postseason from 1984 to 1988 — is greatly increased with Butler in the lineup.

The decision on Butler’s return will be made this afternoon after the team’s medical staff huddles.

“It’s looking real close,” Butler said Friday. “With the losing, they’re going to have to get me out there somehow, someway. I’ve wanted to play since the Milwaukee game. I went through the [pregame] drills, felt pretty good. There’s still a little bit of pain, but I want to get out there, man. My teammates need me, I need them and we need to win.”

It remains unclear whether the Wizards will have to face a Cleveland team led by MVP candidate LeBron James. The Cavaliers’ leader in points (31.6), assists (6.6) and steals (1.56) sat out Thursday’s game against New York after spraining his ankle the previous night against Detroit.

James is listed as questionable but practiced yesterday, proclaimed himself “85 percent” and said he expects to play today.

The Cavaliers are locked into the fourth spot and are waiting to find out which team from among the Wizards, Bucks and Pacers will be their first-round opponent.

The Wizards have spent the better part of the last three weeks playing tough games on the road — just two of their last 13 have been at Verizon Center, where they have been pretty sturdy (25-14) most of the season.

“It seems like we’ve been on the road forever,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “We’ve had some injuries, but that’s the league. You’ve got to deal with it. It seems like everybody got healthy on us at home: Philadelphia, Milwaukee and now Chicago. And now we’ve got to get healthy at home against Cleveland. That’s what it boils down to.”

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