- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

ORLANDO, Fla. — With playoff seeding set and his team facing the Orlando Magic last night with nothing on the line but pride and the potential risk of further injury, Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan gave his star trio of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison the night off.

And Jordan played his remaining starters on a limited basis, giving his less-experienced charges their most extensive playing time of the season. The end result was a 103-83 defeat to a Magic squad that also used its starters sparingly with the third seed in the East locked up.

Third-year forward/center Andray Blatche led the Wizards (43-39) with 20 points and 11 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season, and rookie guard Nick Young added 14 points. Fellow rookie Oleksiy Pecherov recorded the first double-double of his career with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

J.J. Redick — who is a fan favorite even though he rarely plays — led Orlando with 18 points.

Now with the regular season behind them, the Wizards can turn their attention to this weekend’s playoff opener in Cleveland — not that they haven’t already.

Arenas has blogged about it the last two weeks. Whenever he is asked about it, DeShawn Stevenson has maintained he wants LeBron James. Point guard Antonio Daniels said before and after Monday’s game against Indiana that he’s excited to face Cleveland a third straight year in the playoffs.

Jordan has brushed aside playoff talk for the most part.

The coach sounded as eager as anyone after the Orlando game, however.

“What I take from that [game] is the young guys had a chance to play a little bit, and now it’s time for the big dogs to start hunting,” Jordan said. “The playoffs start, and our top eight, nine guys seem to be ready and healthy.”

Jordan and his crew are familiar with the Cavaliers.

Washington fell in six games to Cleveland in 2006. And then after season-ending injuries to Arenas and Butler last year, the Wizards were swept.

Injuries to Arenas and Butler again this year proved debilitating, but they gave little used players Roger Mason Jr., Darius Songaila and Andray Blatche the opportunity to gain valuable experience.

“Last year, I just had spot minutes, and then injuries came at the end of the year, so I was just kind of thrown in the fire a little bit in the playoffs,” Mason said. “This year it’s a completely different mind-set, and I’m excited for it.”

Mason is also looking forward to what a fully healthy Wizards squad can do.

Only three times this season have the Wizards played with their full complement of players — aside from center Etan Thomas, who has missed the entire season after heart surgery. Arenas played the first eight games of the season, but during that time, Pecherov sat out with a hairline fracture in his ankle.

Arenas missed 66 straight games after having knee surgery Nov. 21, and Butler missed 19 games in late January and much of February after a labral tear in his left hip.

Butler returned March 13, and Arenas came back April 2. But Jamison missed the next two games with a sprained shoulder.

The Wizards, sporting a full rotation of players, beat league-leading Boston 109-95 on April 9 and started the next game — at Detroit— with all hands on deck, but Butler bruised his knee and hasn’t played since, and Arenas has sat out the last two games.

Still, the Wizards feel confident heading into the playoffs.

“It’s always good to have experience in the playoffs,” Jordan said. “It’s an entirely different intensity, entirely different concentration level, physical nature. … You have to be ready to handle the emotional and the mental and the physical part. And if you have that experience, like everything in life, you’ll be prepared the next time around.”

Wizards report

Last night at Amway Arena in Orlando, Fla.

SEEN AND HEARD

Small forward Caron Butler missed his third straight game while recovering from a bruised right knee, but he said his recovery is progressing nicely. He said the swelling in his knee, which was caused by the inflammation of a bursa sac behind his kneecap, is going down “at a rapid rate” and the team’s decision to hold him out against the Magic was more of a precautionary move.

Butler concludes the finest regular season of his career and the most well-rounded season by any NBA player in the last two years. The two-time All-Star this season averaged career highs in points (20.3), assists (4.9) and steals (2.2) to go with 6.7 rebounds. Butler is the only player in the last two seasons to average at least 20 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals and the first player to do so since LeBron James and Larry Hughes in the 2004-05 season.

QUOTABLE

“I’d have to. My name in this league is Tough Juice. I’ve earned it.”

— Caron Butler when asked whether he would have played on his knee if the playoffs had started last night

BY THE NUMBERS

11 Times this regular season that All-Stars Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison played together.

Mike Jones

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