- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2007

Since before training camp, the Washington Wizards’ slogan has been “Go All In.” But after season-ending injuries to All-Stars Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas, the Wizards will go the rest of the way bearing no resemblance to the strong team that played for the first half of the season.

The Wizards’ worst fear was confirmed yesterday when it was learned Arenas, a three-time All-Star, tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee in the first quarter of Washington’s 108-102 loss to Charlotte on Wednesday. He underwent arthroscopic surgery at Sibley Memorial Hospital and will be out two to three months.

“Gilbert was performing at an elite level,” Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld said. “It’s unfortunate that this injury occurred, but being the competitor that he is, Gilbert will approach his rehab regimen with the same work ethic that has made him one of the league’s most outstanding performers. We expect him to make a full recovery, and we know that his teammates will be up to the challenge to respond in his absence.”

Butler, who is expected to be out at least six weeks, fractured his right hand Sunday while attempting to block a dunk by Ruben Patterson in a loss at Milwaukee.

Arenas (28.4) and Butler (19.1) combined for 47.5 points a game this season. The trio of Arenas, Butler and Antawn Jamison (19.5) combined to average 67 points — second in the league only to the 67.9 by Denver’s Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson and J.R. Smith.

Without Arenas and Butler, the Wizards — losers of 17 of their last 29 games and struggling to earn a third straight playoff berth — will look nothing like the high-scoring outfit fans had grown used to seeing.

“We’re going to look like a totally different team,” guard DeShawn Stevenson said. “We’re losing a guy that averaged 30 and a guy that averaged 20. We’re going to look like a totally different team. There will be more sharing the ball. Guys are going to have to step up. We’re going to have to try and do different things.”

Reserve guard Antonio Daniels will start alongside Stevenson in the backcourt. Daniels has had an inconsistent season, his second in Washington. However, he started for the Wizards against the Bobcats after coach Eddie Jordan benched Arenas at the start for being late to the team’s afternoon shootaround, and Daniels responded with a career-high 17 assists and 18 points.

Jarvis Hayes will continue to start in place of Butler.

“It is an unfortunate incident, and as players in the NBA and as coaches in the NBA, you have to be prepared for something like this at times,” Jordan said. “I think we are prepared. We have 12 guys ready to play.”

The sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards (39-35) can clinch a playoff berth tonight with a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Verizon Center.

But wins have not been easy to come by for the Wizards since they won 23 of 31 games from Nov. 28 to Jan. 30. Shortly thereafter, Arenas and Butler were named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team, and Jordan was named its coach.

But on Jan. 30, Jamison went down with a sprained left knee, and the Wizards have won just 12 of 31 games since.

“We were just on the brink of doing something special and making some noise,” Jamison said. “It’s just the tale of two different seasons. One half of the season, things were going great. [We] had the best record in the Eastern Conference, and then I went out, Caron went out and came back and now Gilbert.”

Southeast Division-leading Miami has overcome an injury to superstar Dwyane Wade, who has been out since February with a dislocated shoulder but now is expected to return in time for the playoffs.

Sympathetic Miami Heat coach Pat Riley addressed the Wizards’ recent struggles last night before the Heat played host to Cleveland.

“It’s absolutely tragic, it really is,” Riley told reporters. “I mean, that team has been very, very good all year. They’ve been leading the division all year. They lose Caron. Now they lose Arenas. It’s just bad luck. Been through it myself. We’re hopeful to get Dwyane back.

“When you have a team that you think might have a chance to contend and you lose your crucial guy at the moment of truth, it just destroys a season of work, basically,” Riley added. “But you just never know what happens. You don’t know who’s going to step up or who’s going to make a contribution. So we’ll see. But it’s just really a shame for Eddie Jordan and for Ernie, who I know real well. But that’s part of this thing.”

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