Heading into Monday night's game against the Mavericks, the Wizards (7-7) had lost five straight in Big D and two straight against the mediocre-at-best Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies. They were without Gilbert Arenas (who was forced to undergo surgery on his knee and will be out of action for another three months), Oleksiy Pecherov (who is out for at least another week with a right ankle injury) and Etan Thomas who remains out indefinitely following oepn heart surgery. Add to that laundry list of concerns the fact that the Mavs (9-5) were the best team in basketball in the regular season a year ago, and after surprising consecutive losses at Indiana and Milwaukee, they were itching to get back on track.
Enter Caron Butler. The Wizards sixth year forward had a break-out year last season, making his first All-Star team and contributing as one-third of the league's highest scoring trio. Thus far, his encore has been even more impressive. Butler - chosen by Coach Eddie Jordan to be a co-captain along with Antawn Jamison - has lived up to his billing, excelling when the Wizards started the season and kicking it up a notch in Agent Zero's absence.
Last night, Caron put his team on his back and carried them to a 110-98 victory in Dallas. He played just under 44 minutes, made 13-of-17 from the field, hit all four of his free throws and set a new career high from long-range, going 5-5. Butler's final trey of the night came on the Wizards final posession and sent a loud statement to the rest of the league that the Wiz, even without Gil, aren't going to go quietly. With a four-second shot clock and game clock differential, Butler dribbled at the top of the key until there were just four seconds left to shoot. He then took three dribbles to the center of the floor and fired up a triple that barely touched the net on the way down.
It was the perfect ending to a night in which Butler dropped in 35 and added eight boards, two assists and two steals to lead the Wiz over a Western Conference title contender. Jamison chipped in 27, Antonio Daniels had a season-high 16 and six assists and DeShawn Stevenson had 13 for the Wizards, who shot over 50 percent from the floor.
After getting torched by outside shooting in back-to-back losses, the Wizards allowed the Mavs to shoot just 3-of-21 from deep. Rather than great defense on the perimeter, the lackluster shooting performance was more luck than anything else, but after the Warriors and Grizz combined to shoot 29-for-60 from three against the Wiz, they deserved a night like this.
The most inspiring aspect of the victory was the Wizards strong play on both ends through four quarters. They led by two at the half and came out firing in the third, stretching the lead to 13 after outscoring the Mavs 38-27 in the period. And even when the Dallas bench-warmers started chipping away at the double-digit lead late in the fourth, Antawn, Caron and the rest of the team closed out the game in impressive fashion.
Unsung Heroes of the Night
- Nick Young - The Wizards' top draft choice displayed his explosive scoring ability yet again, taking it to the rim on three straight possessions following a mini-run by Dallas for two buckets and a miss that Brendan Haywood tipped in on the follow. Young blew by Brendon Bass and the much larger DeSagana Diop, showing his quickness and strength when the Wizards needed a spirt. Young finished with seven points on 3-of-8 shooting and three boards. This guy has really stepped up since his landlord (Gil) went down, and he keeps getting better each game.
- Antonio Daniels - With Arenas out, the savvy veteran from Bowling Green has been called to lead this team, push the tempo and get the ball in the hands of it's scorers. AD excelled in this role late last season with Gilbert and Caron out and he has continued to show why he's one of the best clutch guards in the league by stepping up huge this season. He had a season-high 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting and made 4-of-5 from the charity stripe. AD had several of his patented one-handed and-one plays last night, two following big buckets on the other end by Dallas that could have shifted momentum. Daniels is not a shut-down perimeter defender - see Jose Barea's 15-point fourth quarter outburst during which he shot 6-of-8 and abused Daniels off the dribble - but he sees the floor on the offensive end, knows when to push it and when to slow things down and gets the ball to Jamison and Butler. Oh yeah, and he still has one of the quickest first steps in the game.
- "Never underestimate our will. Guys were aggressive and stayed positive. It's not going to be one individual (replacing Arenas). We've just got to continue to keep this thing going.'' - - Caron Butler
-- The Tar Heel