By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 12, 2007
ATLANTA, Nov. 11 -- The Washington Wizards' formula for earning their first victory of the season was simple: cut down on turnovers, share the ball, rebound and make shots late in the game.
They did all of the above Sunday afternoon against the Atlanta Hawks and the result was a 101-90 victory that provided a modicum of relief after an 0-5 start.
When Gilbert Arenas blew past Josh Childress and banked in a layup, giving the Wizards a 94-85 lead with just under three minutes to play, Coach Eddie Jordan released pent-up tension by pounding his right fist on top of the scorer's table.
"Yeah, I did that because I thought it was a cushioned table," Jordan joked while rubbing his hand after the game. "Turns out it wasn't and it hurts. But, that was certainly a big, big play for us. . . . You know we needed the win. We needed it in the worst way."
Arenas, who finished with 18 points on 5-of-15 shooting with six assists, four rebounds and three steals in just under 40 minutes, didn't force the action. Because so many of his teammates played at a high level, the Wizards didn't need him to.
For the first time this season, all five starters scored in double figures. After averaging 18.8 turnovers in the first five games, the Wizards gave up the ball a season-low 12 times.
Against a Hawks team that has already earned home wins over the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns, the Wizards totaled a season-high 26 assists, shot a season-best 43.2 percent and held a 53-41 edge in rebounding.
From the opening tip-off, the Wizards were the more energetic team. They moved the ball with a crispness that was missing in Friday's blowout home loss to the Denver Nuggets, chased down loose balls and thwarted a late comeback attempt by the Hawks with sound defense and rebounding.
Jordan also shortened his rotation by primarily going with his top eight players.
"You had a team that was hungry for a win," said Atlanta Coach Mike Woodson, whose team has lost 11 of its past 13 games against the Wizards. "They came in here and played like they really wanted to win, and we didn't tonight. . . . Every loose ball, they came up with. We just got outplayed."
Center Brendan Haywood got things rolling early by scoring 11 of his 13 points and pulling down four of his 12 rebounds in the first quarter as the Wizards built leads of 18-11, 20-13 and 22-14.
Caron Butler (24 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds) helped carry that momentum into the second period when he scored 14 points on 4-of-5 shooting. DeShawn Stevenson, who has been in a dreadful shooting slump since late last season, scored 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting while making a pair of three-pointers.
Antawn Jamison came up big late in the game when he answered a basket by Josh Smith with an offensive rebound and putback that pushed the Wizards' lead back to nine points with 2 minutes 14 seconds remaining.
"Moving the ball, that was the biggest thing," Butler said. "If you look at our team collectively as a whole, I think our single-game high for assists was 11 or 12 coming in, but today, we capitalized on moving the ball, getting everyone involved. To have five starters in double figures is a sign that everyone was sharing the ball and we had a nice rhythm."
The team's next task will be to carry the momentum into Wednesday night's home game against Indiana and beyond. With games coming up against the Pacers (3-3), Minnesota Timberwolves (0-5), Portland Trail Blazers (3-3) and Philadelphia 76ers (2-3), the Wizards will have a chance to climb out of the early-season hole they dug for themselves.
"Well, we were going to have to win one eventually," Arenas joked. "But it depends on what we do after this. If this gets us started and we go win eight in a row, then this is a good win but if it doesn't lead to anything, then it's not an important win. We have to build on this."