- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

Caron Butler strutted out of the trainer’s room after the Washington Wizards’ 101-99 victory over the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers decked out in a grey suit, accented by matching lavender tie and handkerchief, diamond stud earings and big, dark shades.

Straight faced, he made his way through a crowd of reporters, stepped in front of his locker and struck a pose, held it for a split second and then burst out in laughter.

“That’s swag at it’s all-time high right there,” said Butler, who celebrated his 28th birthday by scoring a team-high 19 points in his return from a 16-game absence with a small labral tear in his left hip and helping the Wizards upend LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who rank fourth in the Eastern Conference. “Feeling good. Good win, birthday, going to go out with the team in the city and celebrate. It felt great. Obviously, we had to come together collectively and guys really stepped it up to another notch and the second half I was so fatigued and trying to get my legs back under me, but guys really stepped up and we came together and got a quality win against a real quality team.”

To earn the victory, the Wizards — who at 32-32 reached the .500 mark for the first time since Feb. 6 — held off a late charge by the Cavaliers and watched a potential game-winning 3-pointer by James clank harmlessly off the rim at the final horn.

They also registered seven players in double digits with with Antawn Jamison tallying 17 points and 10 rebounds, Brendan Haywood finishing with 14 points and seven rebounds, DeShawn Stevenson with 13 points — including four 3-pointers — and Antonio Daniels notching 10 points and seven assists to follow Butler’s lead.

Reserves Darius Songaila and Nick Young contributed 15 and 10 points respectively.

“It feels good because it was a complete team win,” said Daniels, who played despite having what the team is calling a sprained left thumb and was visibly pained every time he caught a pass or got bumped on that hand and made. “A total team effort. For us to have seven guys in double figures, I think that says a lot to the basketball we have played as of late, even getting Caron back. He did a great job of sacrificing himself at times to get other guys shots and when we play that way, we’re a very difficult team to beat.”

Daniels and the Wizards erased a 54-46 halftime deficit with a 20-8 run that opened the third quarter and gave them a 64-62 lead with 7:04 left in the period.

Butler, who made his team’s first shots in both the first and second quarters, sparked the surge with a 17-footer 46 seconds into the second half. Jamison, who had struggled offensively in the first half, hit two 3-pointers and Stevenson hit two of his own.

The Wizards never trailed again and extended their lead to as many as nine points when another Stevenson 3 put Washington ahead 92-83 with 4:21 left in the game. But the lead wasn’t safe. Cleveland reeled Washington in, pulling within 99-96 and the game took on an all-to-familiar feeling.

In 2006 the Cavaliers ended the Wizards’ season in the playoffs with buzzer-beating layup from James in overtime of Game 6 of the series and the following night Damon Jones nailed a last-second 3-pointer in overtime to eliminate the Wizards. And the last time the teams met this season — Feb. 22 in Ohio — Washington led until seven ticks remained and then James lifted his team 90-89 with two foul shots.

Last night, with his team down 100-96, James drove the lane, but Stevenson took a charge giving the Wizards the ball. Six seconds later on Cleveland’s last possession, James brought the ball up the court and launched a potential game-winning 3, but the ball clanked off the rim for a Wizards win.

“I thought he was gonna go to the basket,” Stevenson said. “He gets a lot of fouls, but he took that shot and he helped us out.”

Said James: “I felt good about the shot. I wanted to win. I didn’t want the game to go into overtime. I went for the win. All my teammates . … I was going for the win because I told them I wanted to win. … I got the spot I wanted to get to, I just didn’t make the shot.”

With the win, the Wizards pulled within two games of Toronto for the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference standings and remained a game-and-a-half ahead of Philadelphia in sixth place.

“We were very happy with the entire body of work tonight,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “We played with a lot of energy and played smart most of the time … We were in attack mode mostly because Caron was in the lineup. That is how you’re supposed to play the game.”

Wizards report

Seen and heard last night at Verizon Center

After missing practice with some soreness in his surgically-repaired knee on Monday and then practicing on Wednesday, Gilbert Arenas said in the locker room before the Wizards-Cavaliers game that he felt pretty good, but still doesn’t know when he will return. When he first resumed full-speed practice on March 3, Arenas said he hoped to come back before the team goes on it’s five-game, seven-day West Coast trip. But those plans have been changed. Agent Zero said he wants to go through a full week of practicing with no pain at all before he returns to game action. Arenas said he felt good in Wednesday’s practice, but had a “little bit” of soreness yesterday. He said he’ll continue to proceed cautiously, but if the on-again-off-again soreness is still going on come April, then he’ll go ahead and play. Arenas averaged 22.4 points and 5.9 assists in eight games this season before undergoing a second knee surgery since tearing a meniscus in April of 2007. Since then he has missed the last 55 games for the Wizards.

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