- The Washington Times - Friday, February 29, 2008

A season is slipping away because of an ever-worsening left hip, the curse before Caron Butler and the Wizards.

Game to game has become week to week with Butler.

Or is it month to month now?

His condition has taken on the life of a local snow forecast, as a puzzle inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma, to borrow from Winston Churchill.

The Wizards have dropped 11 of their last 14 games, two last week because of the dribble-for-a-half-hour, take-a-difficult-shot play.

Neither Antonio Daniels nor DeShawn Stevenson was able to locate Antawn Jamison, and so the disaster called the Knicks and the LeBron James-led pickup team held off the Wizards.

The loss to the Knicks possibly was the Wizards’ low point of the season, although the Wizards have done an exceedingly good job of fashioning a collection of low points, the 23-point first half against the Rockets the most recent.

Three nights after Stevenson’s last-second shot hit off the top of the backboard against the Cavaliers, he hit a game-winning 3-pointer against the Hornets.

He undoubtedly could not feel his face in either instance. Or feel much of anything.

The team’s supporters are equally numb, with the ninth-place Bulls four games behind the Wizards. That safety net is apt to be reduced to three games after tonight.

The skid of the Wizards is the product of their two lead players being relegated to street clothes, and this is to reintroduce the former Gilbert Arenas, whose absence was tolerable until Butler left his body in Milwaukee yet again.

No NBA team could overcome the absence of two All-Stars, no matter how many quality practice minutes Mike O’Koren and Phil Hubbard provide.

The Wizards have shown a certain feistiness during their descent to irrelevance. They usually cannot finish their worthy work because of the dribble-for-a-half-hour, take-a-difficult-shot play, which, of course, Eddie Jordan does not diagram during the preceding timeout.

Jordan diagrams the winning play, as coaches are paid to do, only to see his players sometimes resort to X’s and O’s that are not in the playbook.

This is what often happens to role players thrust into situations that exceed their ability level.

The Wizards are trying to keep hope alive until Arenas and Butler return to the lineup.

Yet that hope diminishes considerably with each loss and the realization that a team assigned to the seventh or eighth seed in the playoffs is likely fodder, no matter how healthy the team may be by then.

The Wizards still cling to the notion that they had the top record in the Eastern Conference until the injury bug took up residence in their locker room at this time last season.

But that was before the Celtics became mighty again and Flip Saunders discovered the benefit of employing a bench. Both the Celtics and Pistons are stronger than any team that was in the conference last season.

A first-round playoff meeting with either team would increase the offseason doubts before the Wizards, barring an improbable outcome.

The free agency of Arenas and Jamison is not as likely to break in the favor of the Wizards if they stumble to another injury-induced, first-round exit.

Both players are not merely seeking contracts that address their All-Star status. They also want to be with a franchise that has the prospect of a championship.

The Wizards once thought they were tilting in that direction.

But that was before the onset of injuries, the ascent of the Celtics and the fortification of the Pistons.

At full strength, the Wizards may be no better than the fifth-best team in the conference if you consider the Magic and the retooled Cavaliers.

That is the hard reality before the Wizards as they head into the last two months of the regular season.

They are enveloped in the unknown, their postseason prospects becoming fainter with each passing week.

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