NEW ORLEANS, Feb. 14 -- The Washington Wizards' 98-96 loss Monday night to the New Orleans Hornets wasn't necessarily decided when point guard Gilbert Arenas missed a three-point attempt at the buzzer, or when center Brendan Haywood made contact with Hornets guard Dan Dickau with 4.5 seconds left, setting up the decisive free throws.
No, the game was decided throughout the fourth quarter, when the Wizards were outperformed by a team that already has 41 losses, a team that didn't give them much of a fight when they first met two months ago.
The Hornets' J.R. Smith and Chris Andersen celebrate the win after a three-pointer by the Wizards' Gilbert Arenas missed at the buzzer.
(Andrew J. Cohoon -- AP)
"I thought we played a team that doesn't seem to be a 10-and-whatever, 10-41," Coach Eddie Jordan said.
The Hornets, who started the season 2-29, have 11 wins this season. It was the first time this season the Wizards lost to a last-place team in either of the six divisions and the second time they lost when holding an opponent under 100 points.
"It's very disappointing," Arenas said after he scored at least 30 points for the 15th time this season. "We lose to a bottom-feeder team because they played harder than us. They wanted it more than us. They ain't got nothing to lose."
The Wizards (30-21) got a combined 64 points from all-stars Arenas and Antawn Jamison, but they lost their fourth consecutive game on the road because they got little production elsewhere. With the Hornets running the same Princeton-style offense as the Wizards, the Wizards weren't able to execute or make the extra pass, as they were limited to a season-low 11 assists. Arenas (34 points, six assists) and Jamison (30 points, 12 rebounds) combined to take more than half of the Wizards' 82 shots. The Hornets "were denying some of our passes," said Arenas, who missed 10 of 12 attempts from beyond the three-point line. "We probably missed some of our teammates on the wing."
The Hornets, however, didn't have any trouble sharing the ball, getting 28 assists on 39 field goals with six players scoring in double figures. Rookie J.R. Smith led the Hornets with 18 points. Reserve forward Chris Andersen added 16 points and nine rebounds.
The Wizards let the Hornets -- the lowest-scoring and worst-shooting team in the league -- get almost whatever shot they wanted, when they wanted.
"We played sloppy, early in the game," Wizards guard Juan Dixon said. "We try to avoid games like this, but they happen."
Forward P.J. Brown (13 points) hit a baseline jumper to give the Hornets a six-point lead with 2 minutes 21 seconds left. Dixon brought the Wizards within 96-92, then Jamison rebounded a Dixon miss and was fouled. Jamison missed the free throw, but Hornets reserve Bostjan Nachbar (15 points) knocked the ball out of bounds, giving the Wizards the ball. Arenas was determined to get to the basket, driving around Dickau and lifting up a shot that Andersen tipped off the glass and into the basket to tie the score with 34 seconds left.
The Wizards got the stop they needed when Dickau missed a three-pointer on the next possession, but Brown chased down the rebound and called timeout with 21 seconds left. Dickau drove inside and Haywood slid in front of Dickau, giving him a slight bump to slow him down.
"There was a little contact and normally the referee will let it go, but in the end we should have never let it come down to that," Haywood said. "We didn't make enough plays tonight to win the game and if you leave the game in the officials' hands, there is no way to tell what they are going to do. We've seen that before."
In their first meeting on Dec. 12, the Wizards collected a season-high 20 steals and forced the Hornets into a franchise-record 33 turnovers during an 88-69 win. The Wizards wanted to turn up the pressure again Monday night, but they were the sloppy team in the early stages, committing nine turnovers in the first 44 minutes and trailing by 12 points in the second quarter.
"We played mistake basketball," Jordan said.
The Wizards were able to fight back, but exerted too much on the uphill climb. "It was one of those games that we normally find a way to get it done," Jamison said. "But they played smarter than we did."
The Wizards will play their last game before the all-star break Tuesday night in Houston.