He was so confident he issued a warning to anyone the Washington Wizards meet in the playoffs.
“They’re not talking about us, and that’s a good thing,” Butler said. “It’s going to creep up on a lot of people.”
Having a healthy Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas would help, but the Wizards will take what they got on Saturday night—a career-high 25 points from Haywood, 18 from Butler and a 99-87 victory over the Chicago Bulls.
“Right now, we’re just focused on every game,” Haywood said.
Even if two stars are missing.
Jamison missed his second straight game with a sprained right shoulder and Arenas rested his surgically repaired left knee for precautionary reasons, but Haywood and Butler picked up the slack.
And Washington all but wiped out the Bulls after clinching its fourth straight playoff berth with a win over Miami the previous night.
As for Chicago?
One more loss, or win by Atlanta, and the Bulls can officially start hoping for some lottery luck.
With Atlanta beating Philadelphia, the 11th-place Bulls fell 5 1/2 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. Chicago could squeeze in on a tiebreaker if it wins its final six games and the Hawks lose their remaining five, but the Bulls also have to jump over Indiana and New Jersey—an unlikely task for a team that has stumbled over itself all season.
“The whole season, there’s a lot of things to point at,” forward Luol Deng said. “Whatever it is, we just have to take it and accept it. I thought we worked hard and prepared ourselves, physically. But there’s a lot of growth that we have to do mentally. There’s a lot that we have to deal with mentally. I think we just need to grow up mentally. I don’t think we had it this year.”
Washington did, despite all those injuries.
The top three scorers have played a grand total of nine games together. But instead of wilting, the fifth-place Wizards are a game ahead of Philadelphia and trail fourth-place Cleveland by just 1 1/2 in the Eastern Conference.
“If I was on the opposing team and I looked at this squad, I would be scared because we can cause a lot of matchup problems,” Butler said.
Haywood, whose previous career high was 23 points against Detroit on Nov. 29, 2003, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked two shots. And he called this his most satisfying season.
“I think it definitely is,” he said. “The team has progressed. I’ve progressed as well, and that’s what you want as a basketball player.”
While Haywood dominated down low, Butler helped out with eight boards. Washington owned a 53-28 edge on the glass.
The Wizards also dominated the third quarter against Chicago, again.
This time, they outscored the Bulls 34-21 to turn a one-point deficit into a 76-64 advantage. With a 66-63 lead, they scored 10 straight late in the quarter and never looked back.
It wasn’t quite as drastic as the 22-1 run they hit the Bulls with on the way to a 97-91 win at the United Center on Feb. 29, a meltdown that left Chicago interim coach Jim Boylan apologizing to the city.
Jamison, averaging a team-leading 21.5 points and 10.2 rebounds, was injured late in Wednesday’s loss to Milwaukee. He missed his first game of the season on Friday when the Wizards beat Miami to clinch their fourth consecutive playoff berth.
Arenas, who had surgery on his left knee, caused a stir when he returned on Wednesday after missing 66 games. That surprised many, although the Wizards insisted his return was expected. He played about 20 minutes that night and another 20 against Miami on Friday. He told the training staff he would not be available about an hour before tipoff, after getting treatment earlier in the day.
The Wizards simply shrugged off another round of injuries.
“It’s been a theme all year,” said backup guard Roger Mason Jr., who scored 14 points.
Assistant coach Mike O’Koren said Arenas will practice on Monday and Tuesday, before Wednesday’s game against Boston. … Jordan, who’s been bothered lately by a sinus infection, coached the team. … Bulls F Drew Gooden missed his fourth game with a lower abdominal strain, and Boylan does not expect him to play when the Bulls visit Miami on Tuesday.