- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2007

Yesterday Caron Butler moved gingerly on his right leg, which was swathed in ice and at the same time receiving electronic stimulation from a tiny device attached to his knee.

But Butler, who suspects he was kicked in the knee during Washington’s 100-97 loss at Atlanta on Wednesday, expects to play in tonight’s home game against the New York Knicks after X-rays on Thursday came up negative. The Wizards (34-26) probably will field a completely healthy roster for the first time all season.

But just to be safe, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan held Butler out of practice.

“He’s got a little swelling in the knee but it doesn’t hurt him,” Jordan said. “It’s a little bit strange when something swells in your body, but it doesn’t hurt. He’s probably going to be ready to go tomorrow.”

While Butler did not practice for precautionary reasons, Michael Ruffin, who missed the last six games with dizziness and headaches, returned to practice and Jordan reported that he was fine. The Wizards also welcomed back center Etan Thomas, who missed the team’s last two games against Toronto and Atlanta for personal reasons.

Washington likely will need as many healthy players as possible for the rest of the season. Judging by the way the Wizards played in Atlanta — when they surrendered an 11-point lead to a Hawks team missing three-fifths of its starting lineup and lost in embarrassing fashion — Washington won’t be able to take anyone lightly, including New York (28-34).

The Knicks are third in the Atlantic Division, 11 games ahead of last season’s pace. As a result, it’s not a foregone conclusion that they will miss the playoffs this season. In fact, New York entered last night just a half-game out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks suffered a blow when guard Jamal Crawford went down with a stress fracture in his ankle and also are expected to be without rookie forward David Lee, out with a strained tendon in his leg.

However, the player most responsible for the Knicks being in position to even challenge for a spot in the playoffs has been center Eddy Curry. One of the few true centers in the league, Curry — who will receive consideration for the NBA Most Improved Player award — went from averaging 13.6 points and 6.0 rebounds a game last season to career highs of 19.3 points and 7.0 rebounds a game this season.

“I think he’s played on an All-Star level,” Wizards forward Antawn Jamison said. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s been controlling the paint against teams. He’s going to make it another tough night for us.”

Jamison is happy the Wizards will have their big men back.

“It’s going to be a luxury because we can throw a lot of guys at him,” Jamison said. “We have Brendan [Haywood] and he’s been playing very well for us. And we’ve got Darius [Songaila] getting into shape. If you add in Ruff and Etan we’ve got some physical guys, too. We’re going to throw the whole cavalry at him.”

Notes — Tonight’s game against the Knicks is sold out. … The NBA announced yesterday that the Wizards’ game against Chicago at Verizon Center on April 15 has been changed to 1 p.m. to accommodate ABC.

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