Wizards' playoff plans take a hit with Butler injury

Updated: April 2, 2007, 4:39 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- With All-Star Caron Butler out for six weeks with a broken hand, the Washington Wizards need to advance deep into the playoffs for him to play again this season.

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An MRI on Monday revealed a broken bone below his right index finger. It's a blow to the Wizards, who will miss the player called "Tough Juice" as they struggle to hold off the Miami Heat in the Southeast Division.

"I am really disappointed," Butler said, "because we finally had everyone back from injuries for the playoff run."

Butler was injured when he hit his hand on the backboard while trying to block a shot by Milwaukee's Ruben Patterson in the third quarter of Sunday's 121-107 win.

Butler, a first-time All-Star this season, was averaging career-highs in points (19.1), rebounds (7.4) and assists (3.7). He is also second in the NBA in steals (2.13) and ninth in minutes (39.3).

The Wizards were in Charlotte on Monday, practicing for Tuesday's game against the Bobcats. The Wizards face the final 10 games of the regular season without Butler.

"Obviously, they are going to miss Caron because of the leadership and the toughness that he provides," president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld said. "But this is the NBA. Things happen and you have to move forward."

Last season, the Wizards went 0-5 near the end of the season when Butler was out with a sprained thumb. This season, they are 2-7 without him, laboring to stay competitive when he was out three games with back spasms and six with a bruised knee.

Washington had a 7-game lead over Miami on Jan. 30. Now the Wizards and Heat are taking turns holding first place, with Washington moving back in front by a half-game after Sunday's win. The team that finishes second will likely lose homecourt advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

The Wizards are 8-12 since Jan. 23, and coach Eddie Jordan shook up the lineup Sunday by starting Etan Thomas in place of center Brendan Haywood. Now there will be another switch-up, with Jordan giving Jarvis Hayes the start at Butler's small forward position against the Bobcats. Darius Songaila and Andray Blatche also are expected to get more playing time with Butler out.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press