Stevenson Over the Slump

"It was a relief," said DeShawn Stevenson, who made 4 of 6 shots Sunday. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 13, 2007

When Caron Butler drove hard to his right, drew in a pair of Atlanta Hawks defenders and passed the ball out to a wide open DeShawn Stevenson late in the third quarter on Sunday, Stevenson set his feet, caught the pass and released the shot.

It dropped through for three points, stopped a brief push by the Hawks and gave the Washington Wizards a 15-point lead they would never lose in their first win of the season.

On its own, making such an open shot would not be a very big deal to a veteran NBA shooting guard. But for Stevenson, who has been mired in a slump that dates from the end of last season, seeing the shot go in gave his confidence a boost.

"It was a relief," said Stevenson, who finished with a season-high 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting with four rebounds and three assists in the Wizards' 101-90 victory. "Seeing it go down felt real good because that was a big shot at that time in the game. I just needed one shot to go for me so I can kind of get a rhythm. I've been coming in early before practice and before games, getting shots up, getting shots up and just trying to get that feel back."

Butler reacted to Stevenson's three-pointer with a fist pump and a yell. "Making that shot got a monkey off his back, just like this win got a monkey off ours," Butler said.

While Stevenson's output was hardly eye-popping on Sunday, his contributions were similar to those he made for the Wizards last season. He typically defended an opponent's top scoring guard and made open perimeter shots when defenses collapsed on Butler, Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison.

Stevenson started every game and averaged 11.2 points and 2.7 assists while shooting a career-high 46.1 percent and 40.4 percent from three-point range. However, he slumped badly in April after Arenas and Butler went down with season-ending injuries.

Suddenly, the open shots that presented themselves much of the season were gone and Stevenson had to create his own shot or attempt long-distance jumpers with a defender squarely in his face.

He slumped as the Wizards closed the regular season with losses in eight of their last 10 games and then averaged 6.0 points while shooting 19.6 percent in the team's first-round playoff loss to Cleveland.

Still, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld rewarded Stevenson for his overall strong body of work last season by signing him to a four-year, $15 million contract in July. Despite the security that came with the new contract, the shooting woes that began last April carried over to the preseason and then into the first five games, when Stevenson made 5 of 29 shots (17.2 percent) and only 1 of 7 three-point attempts.

Instead of catching the ball and releasing it in one smooth motion as he did for most of last season, Stevenson was hesitant, as if he didn't trust himself.

"For me it's hard to work on your game and then come into the season knowing that your job is to play off the other guys and make shots when they are there," Stevenson said following Sunday's win. "But that's why it's 82 games. You have to get a rhythm and I think I got it with this win. We all needed this one and I'm just happy that I was able to contribute. We're going to be all right. We have a lot of vets on this team and no matter what, I'm going to keep shooting those kinds of shots. I have to."

Timely shot-making by Stevenson could be crucial for the Wizards, who host the Indiana Pacers tomorrow night, as Arenas continues to bounce back from offseason knee surgery.

Arenas was able to play at a steady pace and pick his spots offensively on Sunday because the Wizards got off to a strong start and teammates such as Stevenson, Butler (24 points on 9-of-20 shooting) and Jamison (23 points on 8-of-18 shooting with 15 rebounds) carried the offensive load.

"Right now, I have to distribute the ball somewhere else," said Arenas, who matched his season high with six assists on Sunday. "Brendan [Haywood] had a double-double. So did Antawn. Caron hit shots. So did DeShawn. When those guys are hitting shots, I don't have to go out there and load up the guns. Hopefully, I can fall back for a little bit until I catch a rhythm."

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