- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Trying to describe what forward Darius Songaila has meant to the team recently, Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan dug his hand in his pocket for emphasis and came up with the analogy of “loose change.”

And then he caught himself.

“No, he’s better than that — Gilbert must be rubbing off on me,” said Jordan, laughing. “It’s more like finding a $100 bill in your pocket.”

It’s a good feeling for an NBA coach who must deploy every possible motivational ploy if the Wizards, in a tight race with Miami in the Southeast Division, are going to bring Washington its first division title since the Bullets won the Atlantic 28 years ago.

With Caron Butler (19.1 points, 7.5 rebounds) out with a knee injury for the next week and a half, the Wizards (36-28) embark without him on a five-game Western Conference road swing beginning tonight against the Portland Trail Blazers. And while the Wizards know they can’t replace the injured All-Star with any one player, they are happy to see Songaila — who knows a thing or two about injuries — rounding into shape.

“He’s one of those guys that you don’t like to see coming,” forward Antawn Jamison said. “But when he’s on your team and doing what he does, you get the best of both worlds.”

After missing the first 45 games of the season following back surgery, Songaila has scored 12 points in each of Washington’s last two games. After going 6-for-6 from the field in the Wizards’ 125-103 rout of New Orleans on Saturday, Songaila hasn’t missed a field goal in the last two games, a span in which he has gone 11-for-11 from the field.

Songaila is making the most out of his minutes, but it’s not just on the offensive end. Even though he clearly doesn’t have his legs back, Songaila is playing defense and making smaller contributions.

And they are not going unnoticed.

“With him I feel like we’ve got the extra boost coming off the bench,” Jordan said. “What I’m seeing is a solid guy who won’t turn it over and can make the inside and outside shot. And he defends a little bit better than I thought he would.”

It has been an extremely trying year for Songaila, whom Washington signed to a five-year deal worth about $23 million. In 62 games with Chicago in 2005-06, Songaila averaged a career-high 9.2 points before a right foot injury forced him from the final 20 games of the regular season.

Songaila suffered a back injury while with the Lithuanian national team during last year’s world championships, and the resulting surgery prevented him from making his Washington debut until Feb. 3.

“Everybody wants to be out here on the court and feel a part of it,” said Songaila, who has posted two of his three double-digit scoring performances in the last two games. “It was a long year for me starting in 2006 and then sitting the first 45 games. I’m finally happy I’m playing and getting a chance to be a part of this great thing we’re experiencing now.”

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