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Tuff Juice isn't well

It has not been a second half to remember for Caron Butler.  He struggled even while healthy, then suffered a back injury, and now appears to be hurting again.

The Washington Post reported today that Butler's knee is very sore, dating back to the Hawks game last weekend.  He was kicked in the knee during that game, and now, nearly a week later, it's still hurting, and it's dramatically affecting his aggression.

Butler said persistent stiffness in the left knee -- the same knee that required arthroscopic surgery in October 2003 and forced him to miss 13 games as a member of the Miami Heat -- has robbed him of quickness and explosiveness and led him to play with uncharacteristic hesitancy.

But is this really an injury, or is this a change in defensive tactics?  I've been saying the latter, and Eddie Jordan agrees.

Jordan did say that he and his coaching staff have noticed that opponents are approaching Butler with extra defensive energy since he earned his first all-star appearance.

"Those guys know, hey, he's an all-star," Jordan said. "People are keying on him. Maybe the defense is a little more since the [all-star] announcement. That's what we're seeing. Guys are taking that challenge, getting into him."

I feel like this dates back to the loss of 15 pounds in the offseason.  That loss of weight made Butler quicker, but it also made him frailer.  He can be pushed around on both ends of the court, and even while he was playing well offensively, I could see opponents really attacking him inside on the other end with relative ease.  Butler's defense has always been overrated, but it seems that it's become even worse this year as he's lost weight.

But Butler doesn't agree with that assertion.

"Mentally -- I'm just not comfortable," Butler said. "It's not a matter of getting shots or opportunities, you know, I'm a basketball player and I can make it happen. I've been doing this for a couple of years now. Right now, it's just the simple fact that you want to be healthy, and if it ain't right, it ain't right."

See that just sounds like an excuse to me.  He doesn't want to believe that teams are figuring him out, but he can't really say anything substantial to refute it.  

I do think injuries have bothered him, but it strikes me as a little wierd that he's not sitting out a prolongued stretch.  He tried playing through the back, and then he sat.  He tried playing through the knee, and then he might sit again.  Part of that has to do with the nature of Butler, but I also think that his ineffectivness recently has as much to do with opponents exploiting his weaknesses than his own personal injuries.  

The bottom line is that, if Butler isn't being Tuff Juice, the Wizards really struggle.  They're 0-8 without him in there in the last two years, and they need his ability to isolate and draw fouls to make their offense work.  Butler is the one area of unpredictability, because everything else runs through Gilbert Arenas.  It becomes easier to defend Arenas when teams also don't have to worry as much about Butler.  

Butler's a game-time decision for tomorrow's game against Indiana.  The Wizards could really use him, but with the Pacers struggling so much, I don't think it would be awful to rest him.  They're going to need him more in their next stretch, which includes a 5 game road trip out west, with two back-to-backs.  

[editor's note, by Pradamaster] New poll on the right. P Diddy says, vote or die.