Wizards Push Above .500
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Even bad teams find a way to make a run in the NBA, but when they do, teams that aspire to be good respond in kind.
That's what the Washington Wizards did last night when the woeful Minnesota Timberwolves sliced a once-sizable lead to six points with just more than eight minutes remaining.
A nervous rumble rolled through the crowd of 12,177 at Verizon Center when Timberwolves rookie Corey Brewer made two free throws. The Wizards stiffened defensively and answered with a 7-0 run that included a jump hook and a dunk by center Brendan Haywood and a three-point play by forward Antawn Jamison.
Just like that, the Wizards were back in control and on their way to a 102-88 victory that gave them an 11-10 record and a 4-1 mark on the first of two five-game homestands this season.
"We knew we had to make a run down the stretch," said Haywood, who finished with 11 points and 14 rebounds for his eighth double-double this season. "They are a young team, they are very resilient and they've played tough most of their games. They don't get blown out, so we knew we would have to fight them off and we did that collectively as a team."
For the second straight game, six Wizards scored in double figures, and Washington finished with a 57-35 rebounding edge. Those figures were significant on a night when Minnesota forward Craig Smith, who is built like an NFL linebacker, gave the Wizards fits by scoring a career-high 36 points on 14-of-22 shooting.
However, the Wizards did a solid job of containing center Al Jefferson, who was fresh off a 32-point, 20-rebound effort in Minnesota's shocking win over Phoenix on Saturday night, and held the Timberwolves to 40.7 percent shooting.
Following the free throws by Brewer, the Wizards held the Timberwolves scoreless on five straight possessions.
Jamison led the Wizards with 22 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists, giving him 15 double-doubles on the season. Caron Butler chipped in with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
DeShawn Stevenson (14 points) got the Wizards rolling early by making three first-quarter three-pointers, and Roger Mason continued his strong play by scoring a season-high 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
In the last five games, the former Good Counsel and University of Virginia star has connected on 22 of 40 shots and 11 of 18 three-point attempts.
The game was tight early but a Mason drive and layup gave the Wizards a five-point lead midway through the second quarter. After Washington carried a 56-46 edge into halftime, Mason pushed the lead to 16 points when he made a three-pointer with 5 minutes 41 seconds left in the third quarter.
His contributions were crucial because the already short-handed Wizards played without forward Darius Songaila, who sprained his left ankle in Sunday's win over New Jersey. Songaila was in uniform last night but Coach Eddie Jordan said that the ankle still was too tender for him to play.
"Someone asked me, does it seem like each night a different guy is stepping up?" Jordan said. "I said, 'Everyone is stepping up.' "
Said Minnesota Coach Randy Wittman: "That is how they have been without Gilbert Arenas. It is a testament to their coaching staff and players. They have different guys stepping up. You can go right down the line."
The victory gave the Wizards a sweep of the season series with the Timberwolves for the first time since the 1999-2000 season and set them up for an interesting game tomorrow night in Miami, where they have lost eight straight.
The Heat (6-15) beat Phoenix on Monday night and has been playing better basketball after a rough start.
"It's a divisional game, so we know it's an important game for us," Jamison said. "We need to go down there and keep our composure and find a way to get it done, and then we need to come back home on Saturday [against Sacramento] and get that string of wins that we've been waiting for."