- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2008

While the buzz around Phoenix revolves around when newly acquired Shaquille O’Neal will make his Suns debut, the Washington Wizards have far greater concerns.

Point guard Antonio Daniels pulled up lame with severe pain in his right ankle six minutes into Friday’s 111-100 loss to Denver. Forward Caron Butler remains hobbled by a strained left hip flexor. And Gilbert Arenas, in whose place Daniels has started 33 games, isn’t expected to be fully recovered from knee surgery and back into playing shape for another few weeks.

Add in center Etan Thomas, who has missed all of the season after having surgery to repair a leak in his aortic valve, and the Wizards are without four players who have started in the last two seasons.

Daniels, who is averaging 8.7 points and 5.0 assists this season, had missed eight games earlier this season with a strained ligament in his right knee. Then he hurt his ankle. He continued to play through the pain, however, because the Wizards were already short-handed.

According to Daniels, trying to compensate for his bum knee worsened his ankle, and he said last night he learned Tuesday at Philadelphia that bone spurs caused the pain in his ankle.

Daniels hasn’t practiced in a week but continued to gut it out in games. The pain has forced him to have his ankle taped even for light shooting. Finally the pain, which he described as the feeling of bone grinding on bone, was too bad for him to ignore.

“I can’t accelerate,” Daniels said. “I can’t jump, can’t cut.”

When asked whether he would pull himself for the remaining three games of the Wizards’ West Coast swing, Daniels said, “I can’t. I can’t. My team needs me out there, so I have to be out there.”

Daniels didn’t practice yesterday and is listed as a game-time decision for tonight’s game.

“We’re concerned about him,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “We’re short, again. Way short.”

Without Daniels, the Wizards have no true point guard. Shooting guards Roger Mason Jr. and DeShawn Stevenson shared ball-handling duties in Daniels’ absence.

Jordan — who tried to lighten the mood by joking that assistant coach Wes Unseld Jr. might be the Wizards’ next option, considering he has been doing a good job in practice filling in for Daniels — said his team will have to slow the game down more and play a more patient game.

The Wizards (24-25) are unsure when or if Butler will return to action during this road trip. The forward, who is averaging 21.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists and 2.37 steals, said he wants to come back but knows he must be patient. He did some shooting yesterday and also is listed as a game-time decision.

Butler first strained his left hip flexor in a loss to Milwaukee on Jan. 27. He sat out three games and returned last Sunday against the Lakers. Two days later while backpedaling down the court against the 76ers, Butler felt his hip lock up on him and he left the game in the third quarter.

Butler, who was just selected to his second consecutive All-Star Game, admits he rushed back last week. Now, Butler said, his hip is worse than it was in the first strain.

He has done rehabilitation work in the pool and some light work on the court, but even that is painful.

“In these games, especially out west, we need everybody to play well,” Stevenson said. “It just means that more guys have to step up even more. Have to stop the bleeding. Six in a row. … We just gotta keep our heads.

“We’re short-handed, but that’s not an excuse. Hopefully we’ll get [Daniels] back soon. Just gotta keep our heads up. It’s gonna be a long trip. We give up now and we’ll be in a bad situation.”

Injuries abound

With Caron Butler missing five games in the last two weeks and Antonio Daniels limited to just six minutes on Friday, the Wizards could be without four players who have started at some point in the last two seasons:

Gilbert Arenas

Injury: Knee surgery

Prognosis: The team’s All-Star point guard in November had surgery for a second time since tearing ligaments in his knee last April. He played just eight games this season before electing to have the second surgery.

Caron Butler

Injury: Strained left hip flexor

Prognosis: Butler, who originally suffered the injury Jan. 27 in Milwaukee, missed three games and then returned last Sunday against the Lakers. Two days later, he reinjured the hip against Philadelphia.

Antonio Daniels

Injury: Sore ankle and knee

Prognosis: Daniels, who has started 33 games in place of Arenas, strained ligaments in his right knee earlier this season, but after missing eight games he has played through the pain. Severe pain in his right ankle has his status for today’s game in doubt.

Etan Thomas

Injury: Heart surgery

Prognosis: Thomas had surgery to repair a leak in his aortic valve in October and hasn’t played a game this season. His doctors in July deemed him recovered and healthy enough to return, but the Wizards’ medical team hasn’t given Thomas clearance.

Today’s game

WASHINGTON WIZARDS AT PHOENIX SUNS

When: 9:30 p.m.

Where: US Airways Center

TV/radio: CSN, ESPN, AM-980

Probable starters: Wizards — F Antawn Jamison, F Andray Blatche, C Brendan Haywood, G Roger Mason, G DeShawn Stevenson. Suns — F Grant Hill, F Boris Diaw, C Amare Stoudemire, G Steve Nash, G Raja Bell.

Injuries: Wizards — F Caron Butler (hip), G Antonio Daniels (ankle) C Etan Thomas (heart surgery), G Gilbert Arenas (knee). Suns — C Shaquille O’Neal (hip, quadriceps).

Outlook: At least the hobbled Wizards don’t have to worry about Shaq. Reports say that O’Neal, whom the Suns acquired last week in a trade with the Heat, will have his first workout with the team tomorrow and possibly play Wednesday or Thursday.

Mike Jones


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