Friday, February 1, 2008

For the third time in four years, the Washington Wizards will have two players in the All-Star Game.

Forwards Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison both made the Eastern Conference as reserves, the NBA announced yesterday.

The East and West starters — determined by fan voting — were released a week ago. Earlier this week, the league’s coaches had to turn in their ballots for each conference’s reserves, a list that included two forwards, a center, two guards and two wild card players. The tallies were released today and included Butler and Jamison — the highest-scoring forward tandem in the league.

“I always think the coaches’ selection is a little more meaningful,” said Jamison, who is averaging 21.5 points and a career-high 10.5 rebounds. “Not to take anything away from the fans, but the fans are gonna vote for who they wanna see, and it’s more a popularity contest. But to get selected by your peers — guys who know about the X’s and O’s, by guys who are trying to find a way to win against you — and to get selected among the coaches, it really says a lot.”

Jamison, a 10th-year veteran, made his first All-Star appearance in the 2004-05 season alongside teammate Gilbert Arenas. Jamison averaged 19.6 points and 7.7 rebounds. Arenas was on the team again the next year, and Butler joined him last season, putting up a then career-high 19.1 points to go with 8.0 rebounds.

But with Arenas out for all but eight games this season because of a second knee surgery, Jamison knew he had to increase his production. His scoring output is the highest of his four seasons with Washington, and his rebounding average is 2.2 higher than his previous high.

“With Gil out and I saw that situation present itself, I said, ‘I don’t wanna be just scoring the ball. There’s many other things I can do and many other things I have to do.’ ” said Jamison, one of just five players in the league averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds this season. “And that comes from giving effort rebounding every night, and not only that, let’s not be a liability, let’s sit down and actually defend guys on a night-to-night basis.”

Jamison, who is in the last year of his contract, said he has yet to think extensively about free agency.

Butler — also making his second appearance — also has increased his production with Arenas out. He is averaging career highs in points (21.9), assists (4.3) and steals (2.4) to go with 7.0 rebounds. He also owns a streak of 70 consecutive free throws made — a Washington franchise record and the longest run in the NBA since Sam Cassell hit 71 straight in the 2003-04 season.

“It feels so great. This is a lot of peoples’ dream come true,” said Butler, a sixth-year veteran. “I knew I was doing the things I needed to do to get there, but my focus was helping the team win. And I think some of the key wins we had of late helped put things in perspective.”

The Wizards — second in the Southeast Division at 24-20 — started the new year by winning seven of 10 games, including two over Boston and one over Dallas.

And Butler said making the team with a teammate for the second straight year makes the honor that much more special.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “When you talk about Boston and the guys on their team, they’ve got perennial All-Stars. And then you look at ours, and we’ve got three guys that have been All-Stars. It’s just a testament to the caliber of team we have and the type of talent we have here.”

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