- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2007

Forward Antawn Jamison, a key to the Washington Wizards’ rise to the top of the Eastern Conference this season, will not play for the next three to six weeks because of a knee injury.

The news yesterday for teammate Caron Butler and coach Eddie Jordan, however, was much better. The Wizards forward was named a reserve for the Eastern Conference team for the All-Star Game in Las Vegas later this month. Jordan earned the honor of coaching the East in the All-Star Game.

An MRI yesterday confirmed that Jamison, the Wizards’ third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, suffered a sprain of his left knee in the first quarter of a 104-99 win over the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday.

“I’m obviously disappointed that this happened,” Jamison said. “We have been playing very good basketball as a team to put ourselves at the top of the Eastern Conference. I was really starting to get in a good groove, so it’s frustrating that I’ll have to miss some time. But injuries are a part of the game.

“It’s difficult for me because of the timing. Although I can’t be on the court for a few weeks, I have full confidence in my teammates to keep this going while I’m out. … I’m going to work hard to get back to full strength, and I’m looking forward to rejoining my teammates.”

Jamison, an All-Star two seasons ago, is averaging 19.3 points and 7.9 rebounds for the Wizards (27-18), who have the best record in the conference.

Jamison, the acknowledged leader of the team, has been especially dangerous from behind the 3-point line the past two seasons. That performance has been crucial in opening up the offense for the Wizards, the second-highest scoring team in the league this season. Jamison ranks eighth in the league in 3-pointers made (95).

“Antawn is having another exceptional year,” Jordan said. “We certainly feel for Antawn, who has played a big part in our team’s success, but we have confidence in our players and we’ll look for others to step up when given the opportunity in Antawn’s absence.”

Jamison joins the ranks of injured power forwards on the roster. Michael Ruffin last played on Nov. 21 at Dallas and has been sidelined since then with an injury to his right foot.

Out even longer has been Darius Songaila, whom the Wizards signed to a five-year, $23 million deal over the summer. The 6-foot-8 Songaila, sidelined all season because of back surgery, is close to being ready to make his debut before or right after the All-Star Game.

“Darius is right around the corner,” president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld said last night.

Now also is the time for Jarvis Hayes to contribute. Hayes, who missed part of the past two seasons because of knee injuries, is in the last year of his contract and could earn himself some money, here or somewhere else, if he steps up his play now.

Butler’s honor, meanwhile, comes in the middle of a career season for the fifth-year player. It marks the second time in three years that two players will represent the Wizards. Jamison joined Gilbert Arenas on the team two years ago in Denver.

“This is a dream come true,” said Butler, the 10th pick in the 2002 draft. “When I got the news, I called my wife, my mom and my agent, and then I took a few minutes to pray to say thanks to God. This is a real blessing.”

Butler has been traded twice in his career. The Wizards in 2005 acquired him from the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Kwame Brown — a deal that has worked to the advantage of Washington. Brown is averaging 8.7 points and 6.6 rebounds for the Lakers this season.

The 6-foot-7 Butler, meanwhile, boasts career highs in points (20.6), rebounds (8.0), minutes (40.9), assists (3.9) and steals (2.1).

The Wizards signed Butler to a five-year deal worth about $50 million in the same offseason that he was acquired. Butler said the financial security provided him by the Wizards has made playing the game easy.

“For a team to make a financial commitment to you like that before you play a game for them is unbelievable, and now all I have to do is go out and perform at a high level to show my gratitude,” Butler said. “The fans have accepted me with open arms. Everybody has been good to me and my family. Really, it’s like Pleasantville around here. Everything is going good. I’m truly blessed.”

Jordan secured the coaching honor when the Miami Heat defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers last night.

“It will be an honor to represent the team and the Wizards organization as the head coach of the Eastern Conference All-Stars,” Jordan said. “I have the privilege of coaching All-Stars every night, and it will be very exciting to be out there with Gilbert and Caron as well, but these honors are really a tribute to the success that we’ve had as a team in the first half of the season.”

Jordan becomes the fourth coach in Washington’s history to coach an All-Star team. Gene Shue coached in 1969, K.C. Jones coached in 1975 and Dick Motta guided the team in 1979.

No Washington team has been in first place in the conference this late in the season since Motta’s 1978-79 team finished the regular season as the top seed.

Jordan, named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month in December, will be accompanied by his coaching staff, which includes Mike O’Koren, Phil Hubbard, Tom Young, Wes Unseld Jr. and Bill Berry.

Jordan achieves the honor despite the team losing a franchise-record eight road games at the start of a season. At one point the Wizards’ record was 4-9.

However, they have since gone on to become the highest-scoring team in the Eastern Conference. Washington has won 23 of its last 32 games and nine of 15 on the road.

“I’m very proud of Eddie and the terrific job that he and his staff have done this season,” Wizards chairman Abe Pollin said. “After guiding our team to the Eastern Conference’s best record, coaching in the NBA All-Star game is a fitting tribute to the hard work and dedication Eddie has put into this job. I’m thrilled that he will be representing the Wizards organization in Las Vegas.”

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