- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2007

Even with Caron Butler joining other nattily attired teammates at the end of the bench, the Washington Wizards — if they are going to be an elite team — need to beat losing teams the way they did yesterday at Verizon Center.

As Butler began his seven- to 10-day stint recovering from a bruised left knee, the Wizards routed the New Orleans Hornets 125-103 in front of 20,174.

It was just the type of easy victory the Wizards needed, considering they play their next five games on the road beginning Tuesday. Washington then plays host to the Philadelphia 76ers on March 28.

Whether they will be in first place in the Southeast Division — a position they have occupied for the better part of two months — is anyone’s guess. However, after last night’s victory, they had a half-game lead over the Miami Heat, who were idle last night.

That the Wizards were able to win a game completely without Butler’s services didn’t surprise coach Eddie Jordan.

“We don’t think about that so much,” Jordan said. “We’ve always said, we have enough. When guys are hurt our objective is to get guys some minutes and I think we feel comfortable out there.”

The Wizards had their best shooting night of the season (58.4 percent), shooting 52-for-89. They also shot well from 3-point range — 9-for-22 (40.9 percent).

Gilbert Arenas, playing his first game after the birth of his second child, celebrated with his ninth double-double (30 points, 11 assists) of the season. That included Arenas finishing with a pair of four-point plays, the first time a player has accomplished that feat since Tracy McGrady did it on Nov. 12, 2003 with the Orlando Magic.

Arenas sounded even less surprised that the Wizards played so well with Butler out.

“We are all professionals here and realize that he is not going to play for awhile for us,” said Arenas, who flew back to Washington on a red-eye early yesterday morning from Oakland. “We have to step up our games.”

Four Wizards starters scored in double figures — Antawn Jamison had 21, DeShawn Stevenson 18 and Andray Blatche, who started in place of Butler, had 10.

They also got solid play out of their bench, which scored 40 points. Most notable among the bench players was the second straight solid performance from Darius Songaila, who scored 12 points on 6-for-6 shooting.

“I’m feeling better than before, slowly getting better,” said Songaila, who missed the first 45 games of the season after back surgery.

New Orleans was led by point guard Chris Paul, who had 21 points.

Playing without Butler hasn’t always worked to the Wizards’ advantage.

Last season, he missed five games with a thumb injury in April and the Wizards dropped all five. This season, he missed three games in late February, all of them losses.

One day earlier Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said that he was going to start Jarvis Hayes in place of Butler. But right before game time Jordan went another way, going with Andray Blatche opposite Jamison as the starter.

Blatche hustled all night long. In the third quarter, he came chased down an offensive rebound that surely looked to be headed out of bounds. Blatche caught up to the ball and whipped a passed out to Stevenson for a 3-pointer that gave Washington an 82-69 lead.

This was part of 30-18 fourth quarter that at one time boosted the Wizards’ lead as high as 28 points.

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