Wizards Stumble at Start Of West Coast Road Trip
Wednesday, March 21, 2007; 1:58 AM
PORTLAND, Ore., March 20 -- Gilbert Arenas heard boos when he walked onto the court to warm up before Tuesday night's game against the Portland Trail Blazers. He heard more when his name was announced during pregame introductions. The derision really began pouring down when he started missing shots.
Arenas again came up way short of his stated goal of scoring at least 50 points against the Trail Blazers by finishing with 19 on 4-of-16 shooting and he could probably still hear the Rose Garden crowd ringing in his ears during a late night flight to Seattle. But what had to hurt the most was this: The Washington Wizards opened a crucial five-game road trip with a 100-98 loss that trimmed their lead over the Miami Heat to one-half game.
Despite his struggles, Arenas still had a chance to give his team a third straight victory -- or the very least, force overtime.
After Portland's Jarret Jack missed the second of two free throws with 7.3 seconds remaining, Arenas brought the ball up court, met and dribbled past Brandon Roy near the three-point line and sliced into the lane where he lofted a floater that missed everything as the buzzer sounded.
"I was going to go for the three, but I hesitated and Roy jabbed at me so I just went in," said Arenas, who hit game-winning three-pointers in the closing seconds to beat Milwaukee and Utah this season. "I saw that there was two seconds left and Jack stepped in like he was going to take a charge so I went with a little floater. I never go with the floater, and it was just what it looked like."
When it was over, Arenas was asked whether he regretted making a prediction that he'd put up at least 50 points on Portland Coach Nate McMillian, who was an assistant with Team USA when Arenas was left off the team this summer.
"No," Arenas said. "I was a marked man in Phoenix and they couldn't do anything about it. Sometimes you shoot the bull's-eye and sometimes you don't."
The Wizards (36-29) continue their trip Wednesday night against the Supersonics and also face the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Utah Jazz before flying home Monday night.
Though Arenas was Tuesday's main storyline and suddenly the most hated man in Portland not named ex-Blazer Rasheed Wallace, the outcome was as much decided by Washington's defensive failures down the stretch as anything.
After DeShawn Stevenson tied the score 89-89 with a three-pointer from the corner, Portland's Martell Webster turned an offensive rebound by LaMarcus Aldridge into a layup while drawing a foul. Webster converted the free throw, giving Portland a three-point lead.
After Antawn Jamison made two free throws, Aldridge followed a miss by Brandon Roy with a tip-in put back, again giving Portland a three-point edge.
After Arenas drew a foul and made two free throws with 32.1 seconds remaining, Roy drove through the heart of the Wizards defense for an easy layup. Washington's best chance for a tie came and went with 20 seconds remaining when Stevenson missed a well-defended three-point attempt from the right wing.
Jamison led the Wizards with 27 points and 12 rebounds but the Wizards shot 40.2 percent as a team and lost despite carrying a 70-65 lead into the fourth quarter. Entering Tuesday's game, Washington was 31-3 when carrying lead into the final period.
Aldridge led Portland with 25 points on 9 of 15 shooting and Roy added 19 points and 12 rebounds.
Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan was clearly annoyed by the distraction created by Arenas's mostly playful prediction saying: "It affected how they played. Defensively, they double teamed him and switched off on him. I think it really jacked them up twice to play to us. I don't know how it affected Gilbert, you'll have to ask him that but it really jacked them up."
Jordan reserved his real anger for his team as a whole and its collective inability to come up with a crucial stop, grab a key rebound or make the necessary clutch play down the stretch.
"There were 24 minutes when we played hard and played together and then there were 24 minutes when we didn't play the right way, didn't protect the rim and didn't play good defense," Jordan said. "I'm going to find the guys who will play for 48 minutes the right way. And if I've got to sit some people, I'm going to sit some people but I'm looking for the right mix. This is the time to play with each other, to play good solid basketball. Protect the rim, rebound, execute and share the basketball. And I'm going to find the guys to do it."
Arenas had made 15 of 29 three-point attempts in the previous four games but his long range shooting touch disappeared on him against the Trail Blazers. Some of the shots were forced while others simply bounced off the rim.
Despite their star's struggles through three quarters however, the Wizards led 70-65 going into the fourth. Reserve guard Roger Mason (10 points on 4 of 7 shooting) provided a nice boost early in the deciding quarter by draining a pull up jumper and then making a long three-pointer to give the Wizards a 79-73 lead. Portland answered with a three-pointer by Sergio Rodriguez, a spectacular alley-oop dunk by Fred Jones off a pass from Rodriguez and a running layup by Rodriguez, the rookie who led Spain to last summer's FIBA World Championship.
Making the loss even tougher to take for the Wizards was the fact that Portland had lost four straight and was playing without leading scorer and rebounder Zach Randolph, who was given bereavement leave to attend the funeral of a longtime friend who was killed in Randolph's hometown of Marion, Indiana.
For Arenas, the worst part of the entire night was that not only did he lose a game and give the good people of Portland the satisfaction of seeing him come up short in the clutch, he also lost a bet.
"I owe some guy $10, Arenas said. At the beginning of the game I told somebody that I was going to hit the game winner if it came down to it. So, I owe him 10 bucks."