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Wizards need Rasual Butler more than ever

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Today's Wake-Up Call takes a look at how Rasual Butler should be relied upon more often during this current rough patch of the season. Also, we examine the Wizards' recent struggles and Bradley Beal wearing Kyrie Irving's signature shoes.

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1. Don't blame it on the Butler

The Wizards are 9-9 in their last 18 games. During that stretch, the Wizards' 15th man, Rasual Butler, has gone from shockingly efficient to frustratingly average rather quickly.

But one of the unsung heroes during Washington's 18-7 run from before Thanksgiving through Jan. 14 was Butler, the team's 35-year-old small backup forward. For those seven weeks, the career 7.9 point-scorer was playing some of his best basketball in half a decade, averaging 10.3 points, and shooting 44.9 percent in 25 minutes a game.

Over the past 10 games, though, Butler's numbers have dropped to 4.7 points and 35.8 percent in 16.4 minutes. There might be some chicken-or-egg debate over which is driving which -- is Butler's decline a cause or a result of the Wizards' speed bumps? -- but the way he seized opportunity for most of the season's first half suggests more former than latter.

Give this a read if you want to find out what makes Butler tick and why he's ready for whatever gets thrown his way.

2. Weary Wizards

The Wizards are dropping games and dropping in the standings in recent weeks. As mentioned above, they're 9-9 in their past 18 games and 4-6 over their last ten.

With the All-Star Break approaching quickly, it's gut-check time. Washington should do everything it can to put itself in position for a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference or else they could face the daunting task of facing the Atlanta Hawks in the second round -- if the team even gets there.

3. Tough practice before back-to-back

Different coaches have different approaches to practices and games. And Randy Wittman is a tough-love guy who prefers toughness over almost all else.

So we shouldn't be too surprised when he decided to make life tougher than it's already been for his players by putting them through a testy practice a day before a back to back that starts with the Eastern Conference's best team, despite the Wizards having a stretch of bad performances.

4. What's the deal, Bradley Beal?

Beal has his back court mate, John Wall, who's got his own signature shoe by Adidas.

Yet Beal has been spotted sporting Kyrie Irving's signature Nike shoe in recent games.

We'll chalk this up to Beal being a Nike guy rather than an Adidas guy, but still -- is it cool that, as Washington Wizard, he's wearing a Cleveland Cavaliers player's shoe?

We wouldn't want him following in Mike Miller's shoes...although we all know he and LeBron James have a rather cute puppy dog-and-master kind of relationship.

As shoe related stories go around the Verizon Center, this one is fairly tame.

5. Wizards face high-flying Hawks tonight

Two teams, one division, different directions.

The Atlanta Hawks (40-9) play host to the Wizards (31-18) tonight in a showdown of top Eastern Conference ball clubs that will each be playing for something important. While the Hawks are looking to make sure they don't drop their second game in a row following their 19-game win streak, the Wizards are looking for revenge following their demolition the last time these teams met. Washington is also looking to avoid a four-game losing streak and losing seven of their last ten.

Tip off is set for 7:30 p.m. at the Philips Arena in Atlanta. You can watch live on Comcast SportsNet, though this one will not be heard on the radio.

P.S. Should the Wizards be worried about the Cavs?

With the Cavs streaking (winners of 11 straight games) and the Wizards bleak-ing (I like to rhyme too), is it time for the Wizards to start taking Cleveland seriously and be fearful that an overtaking of their seed is on the horizon?

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