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Wrong man for the job (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday April 4, 2007 3:57PM; Updated: Wednesday April 4, 2007 5:03PM
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Minus Butler, Wizards at a loss

All-Star Caron Butler's broken right hand is a killer injury to the Wizards, who need his toughness, rebounding and post play, not to mention his 19.1 points a game. Last season the Wizards went 0-5 at the end of the year without Butler; this season they're 2-8 without him.

The 6-7 forward is expected to miss six weeks after banging his hand against the backboard Sunday. By the time he's recovered, the Wizards will probably have lost home court advantage in the playoffs as well as their opening-round series against Toronto, Miami or Cleveland.

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It's going to be interesting to see how his teammates and coaches react to life without him. If they put up a fight over the next month, they'll be showing that they can assemble a serious challenge for the Eastern Conference championship next season when Butler returns.

The question for the Wizards is always going to involve their toughness. Everyone knows they don't play defense, but neither did the Mavericks when they were being quarterbacked by Steve Nash -- and those were tough teams in Dallas. No one is expecting Washington to go far in the playoffs without Butler. But if this team has the makings of a contender, then it should put up a decent fight down the stretch. Otherwise the Wizards will be revealing a hole in their heart that not even a healthy Butler can repair.

Trey magnifique?

We may see skilled Chinese 7-footer Yi Jianlian emerge as a contender for the No. 3 pick in the draft. This is being hailed as a two-player contest, but one of the league's top scouts insists that Yi will emerge as more than a consolation prize for the team that winds up with the No. 3 pick.

Boston VP Danny Ainge recently made another trip to China to see Yi, which indicates the Celtics will be considering him if they don't have a shot at Greg Oden or Kevin Durant.

On the subject of the draft, don't pay a lot of attention to this post-tournament speculation about Oden and Durant returning to college. Of course everybody is going to be sentimental this time of year about making another run at the NCAA title next year. But that kind of talk usually dissipates over the ensuing weeks as advisers and potential agents start reaching out to the players and their families.

Oden and Durant don't need to apply for the draft until April 29. If the stay-in-school claims are still being made with force three weeks from now, then you can start taking them seriously.

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