Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan often reminds players not named Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison or Caron Butler that a time may come when they are going to have to step up and take a bigger role.

That time is now.

The Wizards, who last night pulled off a 104-99 victory against Detroit at sold-out Verizon Center, likely will be without Jamison, who sprained his left knee in the first quarter of last night’s victory, for the next “two to eight weeks,” according to a team source.

“Hopefully he bounces back pretty soon,” said Caron Butler, who finished with 13 points for the 27-17 Wizards. “He’s our team captain, so he’s definitely going to be missed. He’s a warrior. He’ll be back as soon as possible.

“But this is an opportunity for Jarvis Hayes, Andray Blatche and Calvin Booth and guys who have been working hard,” Butler continued. “Coach said, ‘What if something happened to one of the Big Three?’ Now guys have to take it upon themselves to come in and play big roles and take advantage of the opportunity.”

The Wizards had hoped Jamison might be named a reserve on the Eastern Conference All-Star team later this week. But a team source said there is little chance Jamison will be ready to play in the game, which will be held in Las Vegas on Feb. 18.

Jamison, who left the locker room with his leg stabilized, did not fly with the team to Toronto last night. Instead, he will have an MRI on his knee today, and the Wizards will begin mapping out at least the next two weeks without him.

Jordan acknowledged his loss is significant but said the Wizards — winners of seven of their last eight games — must remain focused on winning basketball games and nothing more.

“We have dug down, and we are playing with big confidence right now,” Jordan said. “But you always feel like you’re playing on the edge of disaster. We know how precious and fragile it can be. Things like [Jamison’s injury] happen in this league.”

Jamison adds to the list of Washington power forwards who have battled injuries this season. Darius Songaila has missed the entire season after undergoing back surgery and just started practicing next week. However, he isn’t expected back until after the All-Star Game. and Michael Ruffin has missed the last 33 games with a foot injury.

Jamison, who scored 34 and 35 points, respectively, in his last two games, suffered the injury when he appeared to bang knees with teammate DeShawn Stevenson while trying to make a layup. He also appeared to land awkwardly before falling to the ground, where he lay for a few minutes before he was helped from the floor.

But even with Jamison out of the game for the better part of four quarters, the Wizards managed to beat the Pistons for the second time in four days.

Washington built a 19-point lead in the second quarter and never trailed again. The Pistons cut the lead to 100-95 with 23.5 seconds to play, but they never really threatened the Wizards.

Arenas led the Wizards with 36 points and 11 assists. Arenas was 10-for-20 from the floor and scored 14 of his points in the fourth quarter.

Arenas, who will start in the All-Star Game, again at times was serenaded with chants of “MVP” and said the Wizards will have to make adjust to not having Jamison’s 19.3 points and 7.9 rebounds a game.

“We know how to do this by now,” Arenas said. “We’ve been down without scorers before. Now we’ve just got to go out and get it.”

Washington’s win evened its series with Detroit at 2-2 this season, thus eliminating the possibility of the Pistons winning a tiebreaker at the beginning of the postseason. It also meant the Wizards still have the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Washington improved to 18-4 at Verizon Center.

Chauncey Billups led Detroit (25-18) with 24 points, while Tayshaun Prince added 19.

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