By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
DENVER, Dec. 18 -- Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith weren't in uniform, Pepsi Center had all the energy of an empty warehouse and the Washington Wizards were less than 24 hours removed from an overtime victory over the Los Angeles Lakers during which Gilbert Arenas scored a franchise-record 60 points.
Despite Coach Eddie Jordan's warning that the Denver Nuggets were to be taken seriously even with Anthony and Smith -- the team's two-leading scorers -- serving suspensions, the Wizards came out flat and pretty much stayed that way until it was too late.
Despite nearly erasing a 30-point deficit, the Wizards fell to the depleted Nuggets, 117-108, in front of 14,285.
After falling behind 52-22 in the second quarter, the Wizards (12-12) chipped away and used an 18-8 run at the start of the fourth quarter to draw within 93-91 but Denver responded with a 9-0 run of its own.
The loss was a bitter disappointment coming one night after the Wizards played one of their best games of the season, scoring 147 points and riding a career performance from Arenas to earn a rare win over the Lakers in Los Angeles.
"We kind of expected that," said Arenas, who finished with 23 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists but attempted zero free throws after making 21 of 27 free throw attempts during Sunday's win. "They were without their top scorer, but that made them dangerous because the ball moved more and that second unit hurt us. We knew that if we kept at it, we'd eventually get back into it, but in that first half it felt like we couldn't stop water from running."
The Wizards shot 39.3 percent and had no answer for Denver center Marcus Camby, who finished with 25 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists and 7 blocks. One night after combining to score a season-high 112 points, Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler scored 70 and the Wizards' bench was outscored 39-19.
Longtime Wizards slayer Earl Boykins came off the bench to score 29 points on 7-of-18 shooting and hit the biggest shot of the game, a three-pointer from the wing that gave the Nuggets a 102-91 lead with 3:50 remaining. The 5-foot-5 Boykins penetrated the lane at will and made 14 of 15 free throw attempts.
"We talked about it at our meeting this morning, that this is about what good teams do," Jordan said before the game. "Good teams take care of business. I know it was an emotional game for us [Sunday night], but good teams get it done sometimes without emotion. Go ahead and do what you have to do. They're going to be emotionally charged and we're going to be a little emotionally spent, but we have to fight through that."
The Wizards may have heard Jordan's message but it failed to register in the first half. They were outscored 36-16 in the first quarter, shot 35.3 percent from the field and trailed 65-43 at halftime.
The 65 first-half points were the most by a Washington opponent this season, topping the 63 scored by Charlotte in a Wizards win on Dec. 1. The Wizards were particularly off from three-point range, making only 3 of 16 attempts in the half.
Denver carried an 85-73 lead into the fourth quarter but the Wizards chipped away and had several chances to take control down the stretch. Denver led 92-89 with just under seven minutes remaining when Butler missed a three-pointer, Jamison missed a short runner and Arenas missed a point-blank putback on the same possession.
Anthony is facing a 15-game suspension, Smith received a 10-game suspension and forward Nene received a one-game suspension from the league for Saturday night's brawl with the Knicks in New York.
Point guard Andre Miller added 27 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists for the Nuggets, who improved to 14-9.
"That first quarter was really the story," Jordan said. "We knew they'd be emotionally charged and then eventually, emotionally spent but they were just quicker than us all night."
Wizards Notes: Arenas was named Eastern Conference player of the week for the second straight week and for the sixth time in his career. Arenas is the first player in franchise history to be named conference player of the week consecutive times. . . .
Monday's loss dropped the Wizards to 1-4 in the second game of a back-to-back set. They face another back-to-back set this week when they play at Sacramento on Thursday night and at Phoenix on Friday night.