- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

MIAMI — Caron Butler’s sore left knee didn’t appear to bother him on his fearless dunk on Alonzo Mourning during the Washington Wizards’ 106-104 loss to the Miami Heat on Sunday.

Yesterday, however, Butler said it could force him to miss a few games.

Kicked in the knee Wednesday at Atlanta — X-rays have shown no structural damage — Butler said he is still experiencing stiffness and might not be ready for tomorrow’s game at Indiana.

“I’m trying to grind it out, but if it’s not feeling better, I might have to sit out for a while,” Butler said following a brief practice at AmericanAirlines Arena. “We’ve got until Wednesday for it to get better. But if it doesn’t feel better I don’t want to hurt the team by being out there not right.”

Butler, who missed three games with a sore back last month, is having his finest season as a pro, averaging 19.4 points a game on 46.2 percent shooting. He has been the team’s most consistent player for the better part of this season, and he was named as a reserve on his first All-Star team this year.

But he has struggled since the All-Star Game in Las Vegas last month, averaging 13.6 points on 39.5 percent shooting in the nine of 12 games he played.

That drop-off could be attributed to his limited mobility, but teammate Antawn Jamison said teams are also playing more aggressive defense on the newly minted All-Star.

“He’s an All-Star,” said Jamison, himself a former All-Star. “He’s got a bull’s-eye on his chest.”

Jamison also noted Butler hasn’t been as aggressive as he was earlier in the season, citing occasions Sunday when coach Eddie Jordan had to exhort Butler to shoot.

“Normally, coach doesn’t have to tell us to do that,” Jamison said. “But I’m not worried about Caron. We all go through it. I went through it earlier in the season, and so did Gilbert [Arenas]. Now he’s going through it. He carried us when we were struggling, and now we’ve got to do the same thing for him. But I’m not worried about Caron. He’ll be back.”

Butler is trying to recapture the rhythm he had earlier in the season, something that is more difficult because of the timing he lost with the back injury. A few more missed games could add to that challenge.

“Mentally I’m not comfortable. It’s not a matter of getting shots,” Butler said. “You really just want to be healthy. But if it isn’t right, it isn’t right.”

Butler said he will continue a regiment of heavy icing and electromagnetic stimulation in an attempt to return for tomorrow’s game.

Like Butler, the Wizards have been unable to recapture their pre-All-Star break magic. Since Jamison suffered a knee injury against Detroit on Jan. 30, the Wizards have gone just 7-11.

Butler and the other starters yesterday watched film of Sunday’s loss, a setback that narrowed the Wizards’ lead over hard-charging Miami (33-29) to just one game in the Southeast Division. Washington is 34-28.

The Wizards return home Saturday to play host to New Orleans, then play five road games starting Tuesday at Portland, a swing that will go a long way in determining whether they can stave of the Heat and capture the division.

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