Taking on The Cavs

Washington Wizards forward Caron Butler earned the nickname "Tough Juice" because of his hard-nosed play and durability.

That reputation may have taken a hit while Butler has been sidelined with a hip injury, but the All-Star is expected to return to the lineup for the first time in more than a month on Thursday night when the Wizards host LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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Butler has missed 16 straight games and 19 of the last 21 because of the injury, which also kept him out of the All-Star game. He was originally diagnosed with a strained hip flexor and listed as day-to-day, but an MRI discovered a small labral tear of the left hip joint that extended his absence.

Butler, though, returned to practice Monday and should start in this contest.

"Caron is going to be probable, so we add a little 'Tough Juice' to the lineup," Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. "And we'll see how it goes."

Butler said he has felt fine in practice other than some tightness after Tuesday's shootaround.

"I've got a nice rhythm. I've got a couple of practices under my belt. I'm not feeling any symptoms," Butler, who turns 28 on Thursday, said after practice on Wednesday. "It's a big day with my birthday. Things seem to be really flowing right now, so tomorrow would be a great game to come back.

"If I wake up tomorrow and feel the same way, I'll definitely be on the court."

Butler's return should help an injury-plagued Washington team that has slipped into sixth place in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards (31-32) have been without Butler, two-time All-Star point guard Gilbert Arenas (knee surgery) and center Etan Thomas (open heart surgery).

Arenas and Thomas have both returned to practice, but aren't ready to play.

Washington also lost All-Star forward Antawn Jamison to a lower back strain in the final minute of its 105-97 win over Milwaukee on Tuesday. Jamison is expected to play Thursday.

Despite the injury problems, Washington is 7-5 since its season-high eight-game losing streak from Jan. 30-Feb. 11. The Wizards hope to move back to .500 for the first time since they were 24-24 on Feb. 6, but that could be a challenge against James' Cavaliers (37-28).

James is averaging 37.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.4 assists while leading Cleveland to five wins in its last seven games. He had 42 points, 11 boards and seven assists on Wednesday, but the Cavaliers couldn't overcome a 15-point first-quarter deficit in their 104-99 loss at New Jersey.

"We lost the game in the first quarter," James said after his seventh 40-point performance of the season. "So we started off, we didn't show no adjustments on the defensive end and were very lackadaisical, myself included. And we let them just do what they wanted to do in the first quarter."

James will try to help the Cavaliers bounce back against the Wizards, whom he has dominated over the last two years. He's averaging 30.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.3 assists in his last 15 games against them - including 10 postseason contests. The Cavaliers have won 12 of those games, including eight playoff games.

The Wizards, though, are hoping Tuesday's victory will help them get back on track at home, where they had dropped six of their previous eight games.

"It was a much-needed win," Jordan said. "We needed to make home feel like home again."

By: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us

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