BUTLER GETS BACK ON TRACK
Eric Patten @ericpatten | 3/28/12

LOS ANGELES–Caron Butler caught the ball at the 3-point line, made a quick fake, and in one dribble spun off Steve Nash for a long jumper.

It gave the Clippers a four-point lead with 4:12 left in the third quarter and was another signal that the small forward may be returning to the same form that netted three consecutive 20-point games in January and made him a dynamic threat roaming the baseline and midrange areas.

He finished with 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting and 2-for-3 3-point range in Wednesday’s win, including seven points in the third quarter when the Clippers outscored the Suns, 31-23.

“Caron was big for us in the third,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “When it was a tight game there he hit some big shots for us.”

He sat out the entire fourth quarter as L.A. pulled away, but according to Del Negro the rest could serve the 32-year-old Butler well with a back-to-back against Portland and Utah beginning Friday.

“I was going to put him back in in the fourth quarter, but when we had the lead I’d rather get him the rest, especially when we’ve got a couple of games coming up this weekend because he’s so important to us,” Del Negro said. “I thought we had a nice flow to our game. Bobby [Simmons] was doing well, so it was a chance for me to get Caron a little rest.”

Butler’s consistency is paramount for the Clippers, moving forward. They’re 7-2 in March when he tops double figures and he’s shot 14-for-30 (46.7%) during the team’s three-game winning streak.

“[When Butler’s making shots] it opens things up and takes the pressure off CP [Chris Paul] and Blake [Griffin],” guard Nick Young said. “You don’t know who to guard out there and then it opens up the lane for dunks.”

To some extent, it’s been a tale of two seasons for Butler.

Through his first 25 games, Butler, who the Clippers signed to a three-year deal on the first day of free agency, scored in double figures 22 times. He put together seven 20-point outings, made 38.6% of his 3-pointers, and was a key part of the team’s 17-8 start.

Then things changed. Veteran guard Chauncey Billups went down with a torn left Achilles tendon on February 6, 22 games into the season. A few days earlier, Butler missed a game against the Jazz with a sore back, an injury that lingered somewhat longer than expected even though he played through it. His production dipped for the next month.

In one stretch he was 9-for-39 from the field, including scoring three points combined in three out of four. At the time, Del Negro wasn’t worried, saying that it was a matter of time before Butler would shoot his way out of it.

“When he scores he gives us another dimension. It puts a lot more pressure on teams and we need that,” Del Negro said. “For us to be good, we need good distribution and good ball movement. We have to also recognize when someone’s not getting the ball how we can get into their sets and get them involved in the game a little bit better.”

To some extent during the February lull, when Butler strung together a couple of baskets in a row he would not receive the ball for a lengthy stretch.

That wasn’t the case Wednesday. With the pesky Suns hanging around, despite playing without small forward Grant Hill, Paul and Griffin found Butler as well as shooting guard Randy Foye open and continued feeding the hot hands. The Clippers All-Star tandem combined for seven assists, leading to 16 points for Butler and Foye in the quarter.


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