By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 30, 2007
The Washington Wizards have reached the point in this up-and-down season where the outcome of each game has the potential to drastically alter the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
They learned that Wednesday night when a 111-108 home win over the Philadelphia 76ers combined with a Toronto Raptors victory over the Miami Heat vaulted them from sixth in the East to fourth and also moved them a half-game ahead of the Heat in the Southeast Division.
The Wizards (38-32) know they shouldn't get too comfortable because everything could change again depending on the outcome of tonight's game against the Raptors (39-32), who moved from fourth to third with Wednesday's 96-83 win over the Heat. Miami (38-33) plays at Minnesota tonight.
"They helped us [Wednesday night] but we also helped ourselves by winning," guard DeShawn Stevenson said of the Raptors, who lead the season-series with the Wizards, 2-1. "That's all we can do now. We had a rough road trip, didn't win some games we wanted to win and now we have to concentrate and take care of business. We can't worry too much about what other teams are doing."
Stevenson was a big part of Wednesday's win over the 76ers, scoring a season-high 28 points on 11-of-18 shooting, as was forward Caron Butler, who returned after missing six games with a left knee contusion and finished with 21 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in nearly 40 minutes.
The Wizards would love a repeat of their last game against the Raptors, an emphatic 129-109 victory at Verizon Center on March 6 that may have been the team's most complete performance of the season.
Six players scored in double figures, the Wizards shot 51 percent and used a 40-point second quarter to blow open the game. Unlike recent games when they carried a lead into halftime only to see it evaporate in the second half, the Wizards never gave Toronto an opening.
The Raptors beat the Wizards twice in Toronto, 116-111 on Jan. 7 and 119-109 on Jan. 31, and are 26-14 since Jan. 1. They played without rookie of the year candidate Andrea Bargnani Wednesday night and also were without small forward Jorge Garbajosa, who is out for the season with an ankle injury, but hurt the Heat with a smaller lineup that at one point included guards Jose Calderon, Morris Peterson and Juan Dixon, and forwards Joey Graham and Kris Humphries.
Bargnani is out indefinitely (appendectomy). All-star forward Chris Bosh, who has scored 34, 24 and 25 points in three games against the Wizards this season, finished with 13 points and 18 rebounds and the Raptors outrebounded the bigger Heat, 53-35.
Rebounding has been a problem for the Wizards lately, but they held a 42-38 edge Wednesday. Although Butler said he was "rested but rusty," he made 9 of 17 shots and was good on two clutch free throws with 14 seconds remaining, giving the Wizards a four-point lead.
"I was fatigued for the most part, but I wasn't going to tell Coach that," Butler said. "I was trying to continue to gut it out, establish a rhythm, and once a couple of shots got to falling in and my teammates looked to get me in an offensive flow, I felt real good."
Wizards Notes: Wednesday's win improved the Wizards' record to 11-6 in games decided by three points or less. Only Dallas and Portland have as many such wins. . . . Dixon, the former Maryland guard and former Wizard, made his fourth start as a Raptor on Wednesday against Miami. Dixon is averaging 11.6 points on 48.2 percent shooting in 15 games with Toronto. Tonight's game will be Dixon's third at Verizon Center this season. He scored 14 points in Portland's 94-73 win on Feb. 11 and was traded to Toronto on Feb. 22.
UP NEXT Today vs. Raptors7 p.m., Comcast SportsNet, WTEM-980 Sunday at Bucks3:30 p.m., WTEM-980