- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2008

The Washington Wizards had little time to enjoy Saturday’s 104-95 victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Less than 24 hours after they snapped an eight-game losing streak, the team plane took off for Houston, where the 20-11 Rockets await in Monday’s game.

“Your job is to get better each day. So win or lose, you’ve got teaching points to go over, concepts to go over, principles to reinforce,” interim coach Ed Tapscott said Sunday. “So we went through our regular practice format today. … And I keep insisting on - and asking for - more concentration, more discipline, because those are the things that serve you well in close games. And we’re going to be in some close games.”

The Wizards beat the three-win Thunder without leading scorer Caron Butler, who sprained his ankle Thursday in a loss at Cleveland. Butler sat out Sunday’s practice, continuing to let his swollen ankle heal. On his way out of Verizon Center, he said the ankle felt “OK right now, but I’ll see how it feels [Monday] and after the flight and see if I can go. But hopefully.”

Antawn Jamison also sat out the live portions of the practice session while nursing a sprained left thumb and jammed right index finger, but he said he plans to play Monday night.

The Wizards certainly can use Butler’s 21.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists a game against the Rockets, who boast six double-digit scorers. The Rockets also have had their share of injuries lately. Guard Tracy McGrady missed Saturday’s game against Utah with a sore right knee; forward Ron Artest is day-to-day with an ankle injury.

Artest was ruled out of Saturday’s game, but when he learned McGrady was sitting out, he informed coach Rick Adelman just before tipoff he would be playing. Artest led his team to victory with 28 points and eight rebounds in 41 minutes off the bench.

While the Wizards enjoyed the win against the Thunder and hoped it will kick-start them, they know the caliber of their opponent will spike drastically.

“As long as a ‘W’ goes behind your name, you have to enjoy it, but the thing for us is to be mature about it and learn from it,” Jamison said. “Let’s not be satisfied with one win. Let’s try to get three or four in a row. Enjoy it a little bit but don’t think that we’re back to the way it was before - just continue to work and be positive.”

One positive development for the Wizards: Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there are no plans to call off Gilbert Arenas‘ comeback for this season.

Arenas, who is working his way back from September arthroscopic knee surgery - his third operation on his left knee since April 2007 - had hoped to return Dec. 1 to help Washington make a playoff push. But his return date was pushed back to 2009 because the knee still needs to get stronger and become more stable.

There had been rumors in the past week that Arenas and management were debating whether the guard should come back at all this season given the team’s 5-23 record. But Grunfeld said if Arenas’ knee continues to progress, he will return regardless of the team’s struggles.

“He’ll come back as soon as he’s ready,” Grunfeld said. “He’s getting close.”

Exactly how close remains somewhat of a mystery - even to Grunfeld.

“I don’t know,” he said. “He’s working hard but no timetable. Whenever he’s ready.”

Even if the Wizards are out of the playoff hunt, the team wants Arenas to return so he can get back into a rhythm with Jamison and Butler and to see how he meshes with the team’s young talent.

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