- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2007

MILWAUKEE — While his team huddled in front of the bench midway through the third quarter of the Washington Wizards’ 121-107 victory against the Milwaukee Bucks at Bradley Center yesterday, All-Star forward Caron Butler made a quick diagnosis of the pain shooting up his right index finger and into the palm of his hand.

“I was like, ‘Man, this thing’s broke,’ ” Butler said.

Butler received X-ray confirmation shortly thereafter in the visiting locker room that he had fractured his right hand. The injury almost certainly will end Butler’s season and will have a huge impact on the remainder of his team’s regular season and the postseason.

Butler suffered the fracture midway through the third quarter, apparently bending his index finger back against the backboard while contending a shot by the Bucks’ Ruben Patterson.

He was taken to the locker room by head athletic trainer Eric Waters and never rejoined his teammates on the bench. Butler flew back to Washington last night and is scheduled to have an MRI on his hand today.

However, Butler said he already had been told his season is finished.

“I’m not going to ever rule anything out, but they are saying that I’m not going to put a uniform on until next season,” he said dejectedly.

With yesterday’s victory, thanks in large part to a season-high 53 points from the reserves, the Wizards (39-33) moved a half-game in front of Miami to recapture first place in the Southeast Division. They also jumped from the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference to the fourth seed.

But in losing Butler, they will be without perhaps their toughest player, one who in his fifth season became an All-Star and entered yesterday’s game averaging 19.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals.

Without Butler in the lineup the Wizards have struggled, going just 2-7. He missed three games with a sore back in late February and six games with a left knee bruise last month but appeared to be rounding back into All-Star form in his last two games, scoring 21 points in a win against Philadelphia on Wednesday and 17 points in Friday’s loss to Toronto.

“It was always something,” Butler said. “Trying to play through injuries and the little adversities and struggles we were going through. Then we got back and started to get in a little bit of a groove and to have something like this happen on a hustle play.

“Things like this are the devil’s work. I’m going to stay positive. It’s going to be hard with this injury, but that’s what I’m going to do, stay positive.”

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan acknowledged that all indications from the medical staff pointed to Washington playing its last 10 games of the season and the playoffs without Butler.

“We’re going to miss the numbers, plain and simple,” Jordan said. “His mind-set, his toughness, his blue-collar, hard-hat approach. We’re going to miss all of that, but we’ve got some guys who can step it up. We don’t have a Caron Butler All-Star, but if we can collectively do things at a high level, then I think we should win our share of games and move on to the playoffs.”

Yesterday’s win was just the Wizards’ second in their last six games. Despite a cold start in which they fell behind by 12 points early in the second quarter, the Wizards finished with seven players in double figures, led by Butler and Gilbert Arenas, who scored 19 points each.

Jarvis Hayes led the bench in perhaps its best effort all year, finishing with 17 points. Other reserves who came up big included Darius Songaila, who finished with 15 points and six rebounds; Calvin Booth, who had 11 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in his first double-double of the season; and Antonio Daniels, who added nine points and eight assists.

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