- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 8, 2006

ATLANTA — The Washington Wizards find themselves plagued with a handful of injuries at the worst possible time of the season.

The Wizards’ eight-game winning streak against the Hawks came to an end 114-101 at Philips Arena in front of 16,258.

The Wizards, who had won nine of their last 15, couldn’t have anticipated that they would reach the 75th game of the season, and suddenly have a rash of injuries all at once.

The Wizards (39-36) were without starting forward Caron Butler (sprained right thumb) and their top reserve, Antonio Daniels (sprained left wrist). Backup center Brendan Haywood played, but he too is nursing a finger injury.

And leading scorer Gilbert Arenas suffered a lower back strain last night.

Although he finished with a game-high 41 points, any prolonged injury to Arenas would be a severe blow to the Wizards.

“When it rains, it pours, right,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “He was in great pain. If you’ve ever had a tweaked back, you know. It affects your whole body. It’s a killer. And for him to come back and play the way he did, it’s one of the gutsiest performances that I’ve ever seen.”

Arenas played with a limp for the rest of the night after he was injured at the end of the first quarter. He went the locker room just 10 seconds into the second quarter, and then returned with 6:53 left in the half.

Arenas was just 5-for-16 in the second half. The last player to leave the locker room after the game, he walked much slower than usual to the team bus.

“On a scale of one to 10, I’d put this at about an eight,” said Arenas, who said he would know more about the injury after a night of sleep. “I would go if it was a playoff game. But after the layup, I felt something pop in my lower back.”

The Wizards, who never led in the final 22 minutes of the game, struggled for most of the night. Antawn Jamison finished with 24 points but he was 10-for-32 from the floor. Haywood played well and finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

“Tonight was just one of those nights where, let’s be honest, I just didn’t get it done offensively,” Jamison said. “Gilbert carried the load for an extended period of time. I just think we have to do a better job with what we have.”

The Wizards shot just 38.7 percent (36-for-93), while the Hawks were 33-for-68 for 48.5 percent.

The good news is that the Wizards didn’t lose any ground to Milwaukee and still hold a 21/2-game lead over the Bucks with seven games left in the regular season. They are in the fourth position in the East.

Winners of just five of their last 20 games, the Hawks (24-51) may have a poor record, but they do have some decent young players. They never trailed after Josh Smith scored on a hook shot to give them a 57-56 lead with 9:55 left in the third quarter.

They put the Wizards away for good when Smith (25 points) hit a 3-pointer for a 107-97 advantage that forced the Wizards to call timeout with 1:35 left.

The win was Atlanta’s first over the Wizards since March 12, 2004.

It is still unknown exactly when Butler and Daniels, both of whom suffered their injuries against the Celtics on Wednesday, will return to the lineup.

Butler, averaging a career-high 17.3 points, and Daniels, who has scored in double figures in 17 of the Wizards’ last 19 games, play huge roles for the Wizards as the starting small forward and sixth man, respectively.

To make matters worse for the Wizards against Atlanta, guard Jared Jeffries played just seven minutes in the first half, just enough time for him to pick up his fourth foul.

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