Wizards' playoff-clinching win ousts Sixers from race

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Washington Wizards simply walked off the
court and headed to the showers after securing their second
straight trip to the playoffs.

No big celebration, no confetti, no cigars. Maybe that's just
the way it is when you figured all along you'd get there. Or when
you're more relieved than thrilled, thanks to a five-game losing
streak that actually put your postseason plans in peril.

Gilbert Arenas scored 35 points, and Caron Butler returned from
a thumb injury to add 21, leading Washington past possible
first-round foes LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 104-92

The Wizards finally locked up consecutive postseason berths for
the first time since 1988, something they were in position to do a
week ago.

"It's what we should have done a long time ago," said Antawn
Jamison, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds. "It's what we

Butler sparked Washington with constant energy at both ends, his
contributions including eight rebounds, four steals, three assists
and a block. His 3-pointer at the buzzer ending the third quarter
put the hosts ahead 88-62.

Game over, right? Well, not quite. The Cavaliers went on a 15-0
run to start the final period with James and their four other
starters on the sideline. That made it an 11-point margin and drew
some boos from the home crowd of 18,405.

The Wizards' first basket of the fourth quarter didn't come
until there were just under 7 minutes left. Who scored it? Butler,
whose five-game absence coincided with the team's five-game slide.

"We kind of rallied around Caron," coach Eddie Jordan said.
"His confidence, his toughness, his production on the floor."

Arenas called Butler's style "bully-ish."

James returned to Cleveland's lineup after missing a game for
the first time this season because of a sprained left ankle. He
scored 17 points in 29½ minutes, but there was no reason for him or
his teammates to push it because the game didn't mean much to the
Cavaliers: They're assured of being the No. 4 seed in the Eastern

"Not taking anything away from Washington, that's a very good
basketball team down there, (but) it looked like our guys thought
they were coming out after the first three minutes," Cavaliers
coach Mike Brown said.

The Wizards (40-40) are No. 5 in the East, where all eight
playoff teams are set, although seeding for Nos. 5-8 isn't.
Washington's win eliminated Philadelphia.

If the Wizards and Cavaliers do wind up meeting when the
postseason begins next weekend, both clubs will know this:
Washington won their season series 3-1.

"It doesn't make us worried," James said. "We know if we face
them in the first round or face them later in the playoffs we'll be
ready for them."

Last season's trip to the playoffs was Washington's first since
1997, and when the club clinched it by beating Chicago at home,
blue and white confetti fell from the rafters, team owner Abe
Pollin delivered a locker-room speech, and T-shirts noting the
occasion were handed out.

There wasn't that sort of party Sunday, not even close, even
though Washington is going to the playoffs in back-to-back years
for the first time since making the postseason five times in a row
from 1983-84 to 1987-88.

Two-time All-Star Arenas is a big reason for the recent success,
of course, and he showed why Sunday, topping 30 points for the
sixth time in the past seven games.

James didn't take it easy when he was on the court, and showed
no signs of an ankle problem. He drove strong through traffic for a
two-handed dunk in the first quarter, then looked at an official
and implored, "And one!" -- but no foul was called.

James said he'll see how his ankle feels Monday morning before
deciding whether to play at Boston at night.

Washington closes with games against visiting Milwaukee on
Tuesday and at Detroit on Wednesday. The Wizards can claim the
fifth spot by winning both, no matter what other teams do.

"We are relieved," center Brendan Haywood said, "but we're
not satisfied."

Game notes
Washington had four turnovers through three quarters, then
committed seven in the fourth. ... Wizards C Etan Thomas missed the
game with a lower back strain. ... Cleveland's Larry Hughes, who
left Washington as a free agent last offseason, heard scattered
jeers nearly every time he touched the ball.