- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Washington Wizards unearthed themselves yesterday from the still-burning embers of their historically bad loss at Verizon Center and managed to find a silver lining.

It might be a reach, but forward Caron Butler mentioned having the cast removed from his broken right hand and perhaps playing as soon as the middle of the first round of the playoffs.

This isn’t the first time Butler, who broke his right hand on a backboard April 1 while trying to block a shot, has mused about playing in the playoffs. Earlier, he told The Washington Times he would try to play if the team reached the second round.

Butler isn’t guaranteeing he’ll be ready to play. After all, he was ruled out for six weeks when he suffered the injury. But he spoke optimistically yesterday afternoon following the team’s practice on the main court at Verizon Center.

“I guess Game 3 or 4 might be possible,” Butler said. “I will go from there and see what I can do. They had been saying the best case was the second round. I will give it a try and see what I can do. Hopefully, it will be sooner.”

One day earlier Butler watched the Bulls beat the Wizards 101-68. The 68 points marked a home franchise low for the Wizards (40-40).

With the Wizards already without Butler and Gilbert Arenas, Antonio Daniels (Arenas’ replacement at point guard) missed Sunday’s game with a bruised back suffered in the Wizards’ win against Atlanta on Friday.

While Daniels doesn’t score as well as Arenas, he has fit in nicely at the point, reaching double-digits in assists four times and notching double-doubles in three of the six games he has filled in as the starter. Daniels was replaced in the starting lineup Sunday by Donell Taylor, a second-year player who this season has averaged 7.8 minutes a game.

Yesterday Daniels seemed hopeful he would be available to return for the team’s game against Orlando tonight.

“I’m better than yesterday. I’m OK,” said Daniels, who was knocked to the ground hard against Atlanta while trying to score. “I’m better than yesterday, that’s for sure. I tried to run yesterday before the game and I couldn’t at all. Right now I’m feeling better.”

Daniels participated in practice yesterday, which usually is a good indication a player will be available for a game the next day.

Tonight’s game with Orlando (38-42) has huge implications, because if the Wizard lose they could slide to the eighth seed in the east.

Should Washington drop its last two games, beginning with tonight’s game, and Orlando manages to win its next two, the teams would flip-flop in the standings.

Under this scenario, with both teams finishing 40-42, the Magic would get the higher seed based on a superior division record (9-7 to 8-8).

Before the blow out by Chicago, Washington had been playing better defense despite its struggles. The Wizards, who give up 105.1 points a game, had held four of their last five opponents to 99 points or less. They held both the Miami Heat and the Hawks — a loss and a win, respectively — to 85 points, tying a season low for an opponent.

Without Arenas and Butler, the Wizards realize they are going to have to be a better defensive team — not their nature — in the postseason.

“The chemistry is coming slowly but surely,” Daniels said, mustering a smile. “People have been writing us off ever since Gil and Caron went down. But we believe in each other.”

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