Wizards Fall Short in Dallas
Thursday, February 16, 2006
DALLAS, Feb. 15 -- Still smarting from a bitter, buzzer-beating loss in Oklahoma City, the Washington Wizards arrived in Dallas on Wednesday on a mission to play loose and finish the first half of the season on a positive note, with a road win against one of the best teams in the league.
With forward Caron Butler practically carrying the team on his back in the fourth quarter, the Wizards trailed the Dallas Mavericks by just one point in the final minute. But just as they couldn't keep the New Orleans Hornets' David West from draining a 20-footer at the buzzer, the Wizards couldn't withstand a wicked flurry from the Mavericks, who scored six straight points as the Wizards lost, 103-97, at American Airlines Center.
"The last game [in Oklahoma City], that was a tough one to swallow. This was also," said Butler, who led the Wizards with 27 points and 11 rebounds, scoring eight points in the final seven minutes. "But just to play down to the wire says a lot about our team. It's a big confidence booster on where we can be if we keep playing to that level that we played tonight."
After Butler sank a difficult running jumper off the glass to bring the Wizards within 97-96 with 1 minute 14 seconds left, the Wizards collapsed. Mavericks all-star forward Dirk Nowitzki drew in the defense then found reserve center Erick Dampier open for a layup. Then, after Gilbert Arenas missed his 18th shot of the night, Mavericks point guard Jason Terry drove right into the lane for a layup and forward Josh Howard's steal and hang-on-the-rim dunk capped the win.
Butler and Antawn Jamison (24 points, 11 rebounds) carried the Wizards on a night when Arenas had a difficult time finding the net. In his last game before the break, Arenas -- the Wizards' lone all-star -- had one of his worst games of the season, scoring just 12 points on 4-of-22 shooting with six turnovers.
Arenas constantly tried to draw fouls to no avail, with his frustration summed up on one play late in the fourth quarter when Arenas pump faked to get Nowitzki into the air, then leaned in for a foul. Instead, Arenas was called for an offensive foul and stood in shock with a frown upon his face. "They come with this new rule that I throw my body into people. I never heard that one before," said Arenas, who attempted just six free throws. "It's hard to beat a team like that on the road. If we were at home, I would've probably been to the line 25 times."
The game got testy midway through the final quarter when Wizards forward Jared Jeffries appeared to get knocked down on a driving layup. Butler rebounded the miss and gave the ball to Arenas, who drove inside and missed another layup. Thinking both players drew contact, Coach Eddie Jordan stormed onto the court, and official Bob Delaney assessed Jordan with a technical foul with 6:54 left. Jordan kept stomping around and screaming toward official Ron Olesiak, "Ronny, you saw that!" Wizards assistants Mike O'Koren and Phil Hubbard pulled Jordan to the bench. Jeffries then ran over to Jordan to help calm him down. Arenas "was getting fouled and nobody was calling it. I'm going to call Phil Jackson up tonight," Jordan said, jokingly making a reference to the Los Angeles Lakers coach who said last week that Mavericks owner Mark Cuban influences the officials in Dallas.
The Mavericks (41-11) improved to 11-0 at home against Eastern Conference teams and 21-4 overall. They have won their past four meetings against the Wizards, including a 137-120 victory last season in Dallas. Dallas will enter the break with the best record in the Western Conference after the San Antonio Spurs, their chief rival in the Southwest Division, lost in overtime in Philadelphia on Wednesday night.
The Wizards (26-25) had won five in a row at home before dropping two games on this road trip and had developed a newfound confidence, winning 13 of 19 to close out the first half. Butler began to replace some of the scoring punch that was lost when Larry Hughes bolted to Cleveland, Jamison was able to regain his all-star form, Antonio Daniels began to resemble the player the Wizards hoped they had signed in the offseason and Arenas was the league's fourth-leading scorer. "All you can really say is we're improving," said Jeffries, who scored 14 points with four assists. "We're definitely a better team than we were a few weeks ago. If we keep building on that, we'll be fine."
The Wizards entered the all-star break with at least 26 wins for the third time in the past 10 seasons, but the road ahead doesn't appear to be easy with 17 of the final 31 games away from MCI Center. "We're feeling good going into the break," Arenas said. "When we come out of the break, we're going to come out fighting."