- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2007

The Washington Wizards finally are back to full strength, and not a minute too soon.

Forwards Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler will start for the Wizards tonight against the Atlanta Hawks. And for the first time in more than a month, the team will have all its regulars in the lineup.

“They practiced well today,” coach Eddie Jordan said. “Without anything happening overnight, they should be ready to play on Friday. We are looking forward to these games this weekend with a full roster.”

The Wizards (31-25) have lost four straight games for the second time this season and have shown little cohesion on offense.

At this point, only the absence of Michael Ruffin prevents the Wizards from being completely healthy. Ruffin missed two straight games because of dizziness and likely will not play against the Hawks (22-36). Ruffin brings hustle and energy to the Wizards, but he does not bring the points, rebounds and overall impact of Butler and Jamison. In their absence, the Wizards have lost games they typically would win.

On Wednesday, Shaquille O’Neal scored 12 straight points in a 13-minute span over the third and fourth quarters to give the Miami Heat a 92-83 victory at Verizon Center.

Against a Wizards team at full strength, an opponent that puts up only 92 points would be in trouble. But Gilbert Arenas’ shot again wasn’t falling (3-for-18 shooting, 0-for-8 on 3-pointers), and the Wizards were off as a team (29-for-81). That allowed the Heat to cruise to victory and, in the process, close the Wizards’ lead in the division to 31/2 games.

Butler, averaging 20.3 points and 7.6 rebounds, missed the last three games because of back spasms. His back became irritated last Saturday when bad weather turned what is usually an hour-long plane trip from Chicago to Minneapolis into a 16-hour odyssey.

“It’s still a little painful, but overall I can play,” said Butler, who was a last-minute scratch before the Miami game. “We almost decided to go against Miami, but we decided to give it one more day. I want to be a hero, but I want to be a healthy hero. As of today, I’m feeling pretty good, and I think now I can help the team.”

Jamison, the team captain, hasn’t played in more than a month. He banged knees with teammate DeShawn Stevenson in a Jan. 30 victory over the Detroit Pistons that put the Wizards’ record at 27-17.

Jamison suffered a sprained knee, and the Wizards went 4-8 without him.

Jamison, averaging 19.3 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds, is anxious to return for the homestretch.

“This team was able to become one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference and we got some key wins against some of the better teams in the Western Conference,” Jamison said. “The last couple of weeks have been different because we have had injuries and guys have not been 100 percent. Now we are starting to get the group back together, and we are ready to put the pieces together and play like we are capable of playing.”


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