Often this season, Juan Dixon has found himself clapping his hands and cheering from the bench, in his warmups, as the Washington Wizards staged improbable fourth-quarter comebacks. So, when Dixon drove around Phoenix Suns guard Leandro Barbosa and sank a tough left-handed layup, he couldn't contain himself. Dixon, the third-year reserve guard, walked toward the bench, leaned back and screamed, "Ah!"
"Getting an opportunity to play and being a part of it, it's a lot of fun," Dixon said.
Wizards guard Juan Dixon celebrates after hitting the go-ahead basket against the Suns in the fourth quarter.
(John McDonnell - The Washington Post)
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But Dixon wasn't just a part of it, he was the catalyst, scoring 13 fourth-quarter points as the Wizards rallied from a nine-point deficit with 6 minutes 19 seconds left to beat the Suns, 108-103, before a sellout crowd at MCI Center. The Wizards (22-13) have won seven games in a row, the most since they won nine straight in December 2001.
Dixon finished with 26 points -- the most since he scored 28 in the season opener in Memphis -- and four steals. He also helped answer a question the Wizards haven't faced very often: What happens when Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes and Antawn Jamison aren't hitting shots? Arenas, Hughes and Jamison -- the highest-scoring trio of teammates in the league -- combined for 65 points, but they also shot just 21 of 61.
"That's what our bench is there for," Arenas said. "If we're not on, he knows what he's supposed to do. And he's doing it."
Dixon was 10 for 13 from the field and 3 of 3 from the foul line, and became the first player other than Arenas, Jamison or Hughes to lead or tie for the team lead in scoring this season. But he said he wasn't auditioning to make the Big Three a Big Four.
"No," Dixon said. "I'm just going to play my role. I'm just trying to be productive on both ends of the floor. Those three guys have been doing it all year."
But they needed Dixon last night, as the Wizards fell behind 93-84 when Leandro Barbosa, starting in place of injured Steve Nash, hit a three-pointer. Dixon collected five points, two steals and an assist during a 16-0 run that spanned just over three minutes in the fourth quarter.
Dixon hit a three-pointer to bring the Wizards within 93-91, then he stole the ball from Barbosa and found Hughes (22 points, 13 rebounds) streaking toward the basket for a dunk to tie the game. Dixon then gave the Wizards a 95-93 lead when he drove around Barbosa and sank the left-handed layup, prompting the Suns to call time out.
The run didn't stop there, though. After Arenas (26 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists) hit a driving basket, center Brendan Haywood swatted a layup attempt by Phoenix's Joe Johnson and Jamison (17 points) brought down the house when he drained a three-pointer from the right corner to give the Wizards a 100-93 lead.
"I know they're probably aging over there, watching us play," Arenas said of the fans. "But it's exciting basketball now, and I know they are loving it."
The news wasn't all good for the Wizards, though, as Hughes jammed his right thumb in the fourth quarter. He will be evaluated today.
The Wizards were able to avenge a 110-96 loss Dec. 18 in Phoenix as Nash collected 11 assists and Shawn Marion had 36 points and 14 rebounds. But Nash didn't play last night after suffering a left thigh contusion Friday night in Indiana, where the Suns scored a season-low 83 points and lost by 18 points. The Suns (31-7) lost three in a row for the first time all season, and they had a season-low 13 assists -- just two more than Nash's average. Barbosa had 15 points and no assists.
Center Amare Stoudemire, who scored just eight points in the first meeting, led the Suns with 26 points. Forward Quentin Richardson had 25, Johnson had 23 and Marion had 14 points with 15 rebounds. The Suns had no points from their bench.
The Wizards didn't have that problem. Dixon, who will become a free agent after the season, has been on a roll the past two games, scoring 13 points on 5 of 5 shooting and sparking a 105-103 comeback victory Friday night in Milwaukee. Dixon said he changed his workout routine two days ago and began trying to make 150 to 200 jumpers before each game.
"It's working out for me," Dixon said. "I am playing with a lot confidence when I'm out there. One of my goals going into the year was to be consistent, and I hope I can keep it going."