- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas confirmed yesterday he will not make his return tonight in Orlando, Fla.

Arenas, who received a clean bill of health Monday on the left knee that was operated on to repair a torn meniscus Nov. 21, had hoped to make his decision based on the outcome of a rigorous practice session yesterday.

But coach Eddie Jordan canceled practice to give his players some rest before they open an important stretch that begins with tonight’s game against the Magic and continues Friday in Miami and then at Verizon Center on Sunday against Detroit. Arenas said he had planned to hit the court on his own but couldn’t because workers were installing the floor for the NCAA tournament at the time.

“I’ll just have to wait to see how it is in Orlando,” said Arenas, referring to the team’s shootaround and pregame warmups. He also said he probably will “wait another week” before considering a return rather than trying to play Friday against the Heat.

Arenas, who plans to opt out of his contract at the end of the season, has said he wants to return this year but is undecided on whether it’s worth risking another injury.

“That’s what I keep trying to run through in my mind,” he said. “If we weren’t in the playoffs, it wouldn’t even be a discussion. But we have a chance of being pretty good in the playoffs, so it’s tough.”

Arenas isn’t the only Wizards player battling injury. Caron Butler, who just came back from a 16-game layoff with a small labral tear in his left hip socket, now is being slowed by a left wrist injury.

He still plans to play, although he has shot just 25.9 percent in the last two games — partly because he’s still getting back into game shape and partly because the wrist is so painful.

“[With] more tape and more padding, I should be fine. I’ll play through it and grind it out,” Butler said Monday night. “Right now everything is being done with moderation. The coach, the doctors, the training staff are making sure my minutes are being monitored, and I’m not playing long stretches.

“After being out a month and a half, that’s how I had to go. But on the way down to Florida, I’m going to tell Coach I’m ready to crank it up and be out there with regular time.”

Point guard Antonio Daniels, who already was playing despite bone spurs in his ankle, also is suffering from hand and wrist ailments that are limiting his production.

“Big time, big time. But it is what it is,” Daniels said. “If you can play, you go out there and play and do what you have to do to help the team win basketball games. My left wrist is messed up, and Caron’s left wrist is messed up. That comes with the territory. I’m not going to make excuses. That’s not the way we are — we tough it out and move on.

“This is the most important time of year,” added Daniels, who has still managed 10.7 points and 5.3 assists in his last three games. It’s [16] games left, and it’s crunch time. We have to tough it out because our team needs us. Sometimes you put yourself aside for what’s best for the team.”

The Wizards (33-33) begin the two-game Florida trip against the Magic, whom they likely would see in the first round of the playoffs if they remain in the sixth spot in the East.

Orlando (45-24) ranks third in the conference and first in the Southeast Division with a hefty 10½-game lead over second-place Washington. The Magic thrashed the Wizards 122-92 at Verizon Center in their last meeting March 5.

A win is crucial for the Wizards, who have just a half-game lead over Philadelphia. Well aware of the urgency, Jordan said he will institute a 1 a.m. curfew for his players in Orlando and Miami.

“We’re going to take some measures to make sure our guys are professional and set some curfews, and we’ve had never had a curfew before,” Jordan said. “We’ll put people in position to be professional, stay focused and get ready for a business trip, not a Florida pleasure trip.”

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