Everywhere Caron Butler looks, he finds reason for optimism.
Huh? His Washington Wizards are 7-25 and last in an Eastern Conference in which no other team has fewer than 12 victories. Still, consider what has been happening lately:
* Gilbert Arenas is showing "signs of progress," interim coach Ed Tapscott said yesterday, as the three-time All-Star point guard works his way back from a third operation on his left knee.
The Wizards have won three of their past five games, capped by Sunday's 80-77 upset of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
* Having started the season 0-10 in games decided by seven or fewer points, Washington has won its past two such contests.
* After traveling to play Dwight Howard's Southeast Division-leading Orlando Magic today, Washington moves into a soft stretch of its schedule, with eight consecutive games against teams that entered yesterday three or more games below .500.
"We went through our trying times early, and I feel like we can really pull this thing together," Butler said. "Seeing Gilbert on the court moving around, looking good - that gives us another sense of hope, as well."
No one seems to know - or is willing to say - when Arenas will start practicing, let alone return to the lineup. He hasn't played in a game this season after having surgery in September, his third in 1 1/2 years on that knee.
But Arenas has started playing two-on-two with teammates.
"He can shoot and cut, so that obviously shows signs of progress," Tapscott told the Associated Press. "But the medical staff will determine when he'll be able to step that up."
Jurisprudence: : Former Celtics and Heat forward Antoine Walker was charged with suspicion of drunken driving in Miami Beach, Fla., early yesterday morning, further hurting his chances of playing again this season.
On the court
Spurs 91, Heat 84: : Tim Duncan scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, and Southwest Division-leading San Antonio held off host Miami to win its third straight.
San Antonio (23-11) put five players in double figures, ran out to a quick 10-point lead and shot 59 percent in the fourth quarter.
Dwyane Wade had 24 points and 12 assists - his eighth double double of the season - for the Heat (18-15), who also got 15 points from Shawn Marion.
Nuggets 135, Pacers 115: : Kenyon Martin had 25 points and Chauncey Billups scored 13 of his 24 points in the final quarter as host Denver (24-12) won its fourth in a row, setting a season high in points and matching its best start since its first year in the NBA in 1976-77. Indiana fell to 12-22.
Carmelo Anthony (Towson Catholic), playing with a dinged-up digit on his shooting hand for most of the second half, finished with 21 points and set a season high with nine assists.
The Nets (17-18) won consecutive home games for the first time this season.
Bucks 107, Raptors 97: : Michael Redd had a season-high 35 points and Charlie Villanueva scored 13 of his 25 in the fourth quarter, leading host Milwaukee (17-19) to its first win without Andrew Bogut (back spasms) in 21 months. Chris Bosh led Toronto (15-20) with 31 points.
Jazz 119, Warriors 114: : Deron Williams had 25 points and 15 assists, Ronnie Brewer scored seven crucial points down the stretch, and host Utah (20-15) held off Golden State (10-26), which has lost four of five games.