Wizards Clinch Playoff Berth With Win Over James, Cavs

By Carla Peay
Updated: April 17, 2006

Washington Wizards forward Caron Butler. File photo.

Washington Wizards forward Caron Butler. File photo.

WASHINGTON — On a glorious Easter Sunday in the nation’s capital, the struggling Washington Wizards (40-40) finally clinched a playoff spot with a 104-92 win over King James and the Cleveland Cavaliers (48-32).

With only two games left in the regular season, the last four spots are still up for grabs in terms of seeding, as the Wizards fight to maintain the fifth spot, while the Cavaliers are locked into the number four seed.

“We played a team that I thought wanted to make a statement tonight against us, and we weren’t going to have it tonight (Sunday)”, said Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan, who stood at the podium during his press conference next to his son, Jackson.

“I approached today with my son thinking that today was the 80th game of the year. What more can I say? What more can I write on the board? I felt that the stress was really intense, and I just wanted to hang out with my son today”, Jordan said, a smiling Jackson Jordan at his side.

After losing five straight, there really was nothing more for Jordan to say to his team. Win against the Cavaliers, and the Wizards would clinch a playoff berth for the second straight year. Lose, and it would be six in a row, and the possibility of falling out of the playoff picture completely was not beyond the realm of possibility.

But the return of Caron Butler provided just the spark the Wizards needed, and the game got out of hand rather quickly. Butler had missed the previous five games with a sprained right thumb, and the Wizards went 0-5 without him in the lineup. Sunday with their lineup intact, the Wizards took a double digit lead late in the second quarter, and never looked back.

“Caron obviously was big for us, Gil (Arenas) was big for us, making big shots, but we rallied around Caron. His confidence, his toughness and his production on the floor was the most important thing”, added Jordan. At what point did Jordan realize that Butler had the sort of toughness this team needed?

“In training camp. I saw it the first week in training camp, what he meant to us”, Jordan added.

The importance of Butler cannot be understated. Without Butler in the lineup, the Wizards were without their third leading scorer, second leading rebounder, and their top free-throw shooter.

“When you take somebody out of the starting lineup who’s a key factor, it’s going to hurt you”, said Arenas. “Having Caron back just gives us that mental toughness. That sweet outside jump shot he has, and just the way he plays the game”, added Arenas, who, despite the blowout, played 44 minutes, scored 35 points, and was still diving for loose balls with 2 minutes to go, and his team up by 13.

As for Butler, he was just as pleased to be back on the court as Coach Jordan, Arenas, and the rest of his teammates were to have him back.

“It feels great, getting a big win today. It was unbelievable. The fans were really into it, my teammates were into a rhythm, and got me going early”, said Butler.

“It was hard to sit on the sidelines and watch the team go 0-5. But once I hit that big three, I felt good, I felt comfortable out there”, added Butler.

With the Cavaliers locked into the fourth seed, there was little to play for Sunday, and stars LeBron James and Larry Hughes sat out much of the second half.

James was playing on a gimpy ankle, and former Wizard Hughes returned to the Cavs lineup just two weeks ago after missing 45 games with a fractured finger. If the seeding holds, these two teams will be meeting again soon, in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoff.

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan is pleased to be in the playoffs the second straight year, but stressed that the accomplishment is just the first step. “The basic human principle is you try and try and try again until you succeed.”