Wizards Looking to Slay Another Giant

Caron Butler
Wizards forward Caron Butler scored a game-high 27 points in a 103-97 loss at Dallas on Feb. 15. (The Washington Post)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 17, 2006

The Dallas Mavericks will step into Verizon Center for tonight's game against the Washington Wizards with a gaudy record (51-14), a most valuable player hopeful in Dirk Nowitzki, a coach of the year candidate in Avery Johnson, and the look of an NBA title contender.

Naturally, Wizards fans should expect to see their team put up a hellacious fight while trying to earn their fourth consecutive win.

That's pretty much how it has gone for the Wizards (33-30), who are 3-0 against the San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons, and also own wins over division leaders Phoenix, Denver and New Jersey.

In a season filled with inconsistency, the Wizards have been consistently competitive against the league's best, even Southeast Division bully Miami, which had to sweat out two close home wins over the Wizards.

Consider this: While the Spurs and Pistons are 0-3 against the Wizards, they are 101-23 against the rest of the NBA.

"The thing about it is, we know we can play with any team in the league if we do the things we are capable of doing," said Wizards forward Caron Butler, who scored a game-high 27 points in a 103-97 loss at Dallas on Feb. 15. "We're a good basketball team, too. For us, it's just a matter of making shots and getting stops late in games and finishing teams off. That's what we're focusing on in these last [19] games."

Saturday's 18-point home win over Detroit and back-to-back victories over the Charlotte Bobcats moved the Wizards into fifth-place in the Eastern Conference, two games behind the fourth-place Cleveland Cavaliers.

Starting tonight, the Wizards will have a chance to improve on their position because the next three games will be at Verizon Center, where the Wizards are 23-11. Only Dallas (29-5) and San Antonio (28-4) have more home wins.

The Wizards had a chance to hand the Mavericks a rare home loss when the teams met for the first time this season at American Airlines Center on Feb. 15. The Wizards trailed by 13 points late in the third quarter but hung around and were down 97-96 with a minute and a half remaining before the Mavericks closed them out by scoring six straight points.

The outcome might have been different had all-star guard Gilbert Arenas not suffered through a rare off night. Arenas made 4 of 22 shots, had six turnovers and finished with 12 points, his second lowest scoring output of the season.

Since that game, Arenas has been close to unstoppable. In the last 10 games, Arenas is shooting 51.7 percent and averaging 33.6 points. Arenas, who ranks fourth in the league in scoring (29.2 ppg), has been relentlessly attacking the basket.

The highlight of Wednesday's 107-99 win over Charlotte was Arenas blowing past rookie guard Raymond Felton and throwing down one of his rare dunks over center Melvin Ely.

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