Wizards Are Shot Down By Some Former Teammates

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 19, 2005

PORTLAND, Ore., Dec. 18 -- Steve Blake and Juan Dixon left the Washington Wizards last summer hoping to find greater opportunity with the Portland Trail Blazers. On Sunday night, the absence of three Portland starters meant that the two former University of Maryland stars were in the starting lineup together for the first time since leading the Terrapins to victory in the 2002 NCAA national championship game.

Talk about opportunity.

After the Wizards steadily chipped away at a 17-point second-half deficit and threatened to steal the game late in the fourth quarter, Blake and Dixon made big plays and hit big shots down the stretch, combined to score 34 points and added to their former team's recent run of misery by handing the Wizards a 97-92 defeat. The loss dropped Washington to 9-13, improved Portland to 7-16 and sent the former Terrapins to their new Portland area homes happy.

"It was real nice for me and Juan to contribute down the stretch like that," said Blake, who scored five of his 14 points during the fourth quarter. "Winning is something we like to do and it certainly feels good to do it against the Wizards."

With regular starters Sebastian Telfair, Joel Przybilla and Darius Miles out, Blake and Dixon carried the playmaking and scoring load for most of the night. Dixon helped Portland overcome a strong start by the Wizards by scoring 10 of his 20 points in the first quarter and when the Wizards drew to 87-86 on a Gilbert Arenas three-pointer with 2 minutes 48 seconds remaining, Blake hit one of the game's biggest shots, a pull-up jumper from 19 feet.

After a miss by Washington forward Antawn Jamison, who was bottled up by Portland's Ruben Patterson for most of the night and finished with seven points and 10 rebounds, Dixon curled off a screen, caught a pass from Blake and made a mid-range jumper over Arenas to make it 91-86, Portland.

Blake wasn't done. After Arenas missed from 11 feet, Blake made another jump shot, pushing the Portland lead to seven points. The Wizards, who hit 10 of 16 shots and scored 34 points in the fourth quarter, didn't get closer than five points the rest of the way.

"When you play against your former team, you are going to hit big shots," said Arenas, who scored 14 of his team-high 29 points during the fourth quarter. "Larry [Hughes] did it in Cleveland, he put the game away, and Juan and Steve did it tonight. But truthfully, it shouldn't have gotten to that point. We should have come out playing hard from the beginning."

After taking a 10-2 lead, the Wizards played with a stunning lack of urgency for a team that is quickly sliding down the Eastern Conference standings. Portland used a 29-point second quarter to build a 48-40 halftime lead and then put together a 14-1 third-quarter run that featured a Dixon three-pointer and a pair of long jump shots by Blake.

After a fast-break dunk by Jared Jeffries at the 9:53 mark of the third, the Wizards went 7:21 without scoring a field goal and found themselves behind by 17 points.

Chucky Atkins, who started in place of injured Jarvis Hayes, provided some energy by scoring 13 points and Antonio Daniels scored in double figures (11 points on 3-of-5 shooting) for the first time since a Nov. 17 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, but those performances were not enough to prevent the Wizards from dropping to 0-2 on a road trip that continues Monday night at Seattle.

Since opening the season 5-1, the Wizards are 4-12 and haven't won consecutive games since Nov. 11-12, when they beat Seattle and the San Antonio Spurs at MCI Center by a combined margin of 56 points. This Washington team looks nothing like the one that rolled to easy wins that weekend and players are struggling to play with the confidence and energy that was so apparent during those victories.

"This road trip isn't getting any easier," Arenas said. "We've lost to two beatable teams in our first two games on this trip and now we have Seattle coming up, Denver, Phoenix and then we come home to play the Lakers, Phoenix and Miami, so this isn't going to get easier. We have 60 games to get this right and fix what needs to be fixed. We're going to be looking at the playoffs from home and I'm not watching the playoffs from home."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company