- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2009

When the Washington Wizards learned in September that Gilbert Arenas would have to undergo a third knee surgery, the need arose for a third scorer to complement Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler.

Gone was guard Roger Mason Jr., who helped carry the scoring load last season but signed with San Antonio in the summer. Hobbled was shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson, who opened the year with awful numbers before finally giving in to a pinched nerve in his back.] ]>

Second-year guard Nick Young was the likely candidate, but his production and minutes were erratic in the season’s first 2 1/2 months. The 6-foot-6 Southern Cal product appeared to turn the corner in mid-January when, during a four-game stretch, he averaged 25.8 points. But whenever Young had it going, Butler or Jamison had an off night - and the Wizards lost all four of those games.

The Wizards finally had their third option, but the pieces weren’t fitting correctly.

“We’re just not accustomed to playing with each other for long minutes,” Butler said. “We haven’t been able to practice and scrimmage much because we’ve had so many games.”

Without much time to develop a rhythm, Young slipped into a slump the rest of January. With Butler out sick for two games last week, Young returned to his productive form, topping 20 points in each outing.

Butler returned Sunday against the Indiana Pacers, and finally the Wizards got all three scorers going. Jamison jump-started the Wizards with 17 first-quarter points, then Young boosted his team with 14 second-quarter points. Butler took over in the final four minutes and scored Washington’s last 15 points, including a game-winning buzzer beater for a 119-117 victory.

Butler finished with 35 points, Jamison with 34 and Young 20 off the bench. The key to Butler’s tear was that Jamison and Young had been so effective that the Pacers weren’t able to key on one member of the trio.

Now the focus is building on Sunday’s performance and getting all three scorers rolling simultaneously - which is easier said than done.

“That’s one of the great mysteries of team play,” interim coach Ed Tapscott said. “It’s a lot easier when you have some balance on the floor. So when you think about it, Antawn represents our best inside threat, Caron is our best midrange guy and Nick is our deepest shooter. … That’s what we’re striving to get, but consistency of performance is certainly easier for the veterans than it is for the young players.”

Tapscott said he made a conscious effort Sunday to draw up plays that would put Butler, Jamison and Young at different spots on the floor. With the trio spaced out and the ball flowing back and forth, defenders weren’t able to pin the Wizards in one area, and Jamison, Butler and Young each got into better rhythms.

Another factor: Young finally is developing a better comfort level from playing with the co-captains and learning their tendencies.

“[Jamison’s] the catch-and-shoot, likes to drive. He’s got the magician shots. [Butler] tries to do it all. And when I’m out there, I try to take the open shots, and if I can take my man, I’m going to take him,” Young said. “I’m definitely getting more comfortable out there, and plus I have [Jamison] in my ear asking me, ‘You got me tonight? Are you going to get me 20 [points], get me 25?’ So that helps me.”

The Wizards visit Atlanta on Tuesday and Charlotte on Wednesday. The hope is the three scorers can give the team some momentum heading into the All-Star break.

“Hopefully,” Butler said, “it’s the beginning of a beautiful thing.”


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