- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2008

CLEVELAND — When the Washington Wizards last faced the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 13, All-Star forward Caron Butler returned from a 16-game absence caused by a hip injury to record 19 points and six rebounds.

When Butler and the Wizards opened the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Cavaliers on Saturday, the small forward was playing for the first time in a week after missing the final three regular-season games with a bruised right knee.

This time around, Butler wasn’t as effective despite drawing an apparent mismatch against Cleveland’s Wally Szczerbiak — a less-than-imposing defender. Butler was limited to 14 points and four rebounds as the Cavaliers handed Washington a 93-86 defeat in Game 1.

Butler said he feels good both physically and mentally and that his modest numbers were more of a reflection of the Cavaliers’ strategy.

“They playing me a little differently,” Butler explained. “They had Wally on me, but every time they had somebody coming, doubling. So at the same time they gave me the matchup with Wally Szczerbiak, but they’re sending LeBron [James] or whoever was guarding the [point guard] to double. So I’ve got to make plays or either shoot in the double team. I just need to try to be more creative, make plays and make the game easier for my teammates.”

Coach Eddie Jordan said he was moderately surprised to see how much attention the Cavaliers gave Butler, but added he knows what type of adjustments to make to cure the double-team problem.

He also said Butler needs to use better judgment to help himself and his team.

“I thought he settled for jump shots at times and thought they did a good job of taking Caron’s rhythm away,” Jordan said. “It’s a matter of looking out for his teammates and if you’re double-teamed, you can’t take people off the dribble. I thought at times he looked out for them, but other times he took tough shots. So we’ve got to do better there. Look for your teammates, get better spacing, and if you get doubled, someone else has to make plays for you.”

Since returning from the hip injury, Butler has only shown flashes of the aggression that paved the way for 21.4 points and 6.8 rebounds in the first half of the season. In March and April, he averaged a combined 17.3 points and 6.5 rebounds. His assist average after the All-Star break increased from 4.5 a game to 6.1.

As the season was coming to a close, Butler seemed to be regaining that strong form, averaging 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in his last five games before bruising his knee against Detroit on April 11 and then sat out the last three games to heal in time for the playoffs.

That five-game stretch included a 17-point, 12-assist, 12-rebound effort against the Lakers, a 29-point, five-assist night against Miami and a 13-point, 10-assist, seven-rebound game against Boston.

And it’s that type of production the Wizards hope they can get from him in Game 2 against the Cavaliers.

“In order for us to not only win games, but win series, ‘The Big Three’ has to be intact,” team captain Antawn Jamison said, referring to Gilbert Arenas, Butler and himself. “But I’m not worried about Caron. ‘Tough Juice’ is going to get it going. I talked to him after the game, and he was definitely disappointed. We didn’t expect them to come out and double-team him like they did, so he knows he has to get a little more aggressive.”

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