- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2007

The good news is an MRI of Caron Butler’s nagging left knee came back negative, revealing no structural damage. But the Washington Wizards still don’t know why Butler’s knee continues to be sore and stiff.

Butler, who missed three games two weeks after playing in the NBA All-Star Game last month, pulled himself from the Wizards’ 112-96 rout of the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis on Wednesday when he realized his sore knee continued to make him a liability rather than an asset.

He suffered the injury in the Wizards’ 100-97 loss at Atlanta last week. At the time it didn’t seem that big of a deal, and Butler suited up for the next two games — a pair of back-to-back, at-the-buzzer losses to New York and Miami.

On Monday, the day after the Miami defeat, Butler did not practice. He made it known the leg continued to bother him and expressed frustration over not being his old self.

“It’s just one thing after another,” Butler said with his leg iced and receiving electronic stimulation. “First there was the back injury and trying to come back from that and trying to get a rhythm. The second you get a rhythm and start to find the flow you get injured again.

“I’ve got a lot of stiffness in my leg, but that’s how the league works,” Butler continued. “I’m trying to grind it out, but if it’s not getting better I might have to sit for a while.”

The Wizards didn’t practice yesterday, but Butler and some other players reported to Verizon Center to receive treatment of nagging injuries, with Butler’s being the most prominent.

Butler won’t practice again today, and he will be a game-time decision for tomorrow’s home game against New Orleans. If Butler can’t play, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan likely will replace him with either Jarvis Hayes or Andray Blatche.

Hayes started the second half of Wednesday’s game in Butler’s stead.

Jordan also might turn to Darius Songaila for more minutes. In the win against Indiana, Songaila — out the first 45 games of the regular season with a herniated disk — had his most efficient game as a Wizard, finishing with 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting in just 15 minutes.

Butler’s value to the team was highlighted late last season as the Wizards were jockeying for playoff positioning and lost five straight late games while Butler sat with a thumb injury.

The Wizards went 0-3 this year when Butler and Jamison both missed the team’s final three games in February. Butler missed those games with a lower back injury; Jamison was out with a sprained knee.

The greater concern beyond tomorrow’s game is whether Butler will be able to play during the Wizards’ five-game swing against Western Conference teams beginning Tuesday in Portland.

With their win against Indiana on Wednesday, the Wizards kept ahead of the Miami Heat in the Southeast Division. However, maintaining that lead becomes more and more difficult each game they play without Butler.

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