Blatche Keeps Wizards Rolling

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 30, 2007

Defense and rebounding have been the primary areas in which Andray Blatche has contributed to the Washington Wizards this season. Last night against a Miami Heat team that was without Shaquille O'Neal, Blatche broke out of a recent offensive slump to help the Wizards cruise to a 96-74 victory at Verizon Center.

Blatche, who had totaled 15 points in the previous five games, came off the bench to score 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting, with seven rebounds and three blocks, to lead the Wizards (15-14) to their second win over the Heat (8-23) this season.

The Wizards held the Heat to 39.4 percent shooting, and Miami's 74 points were the fewest scored by a Washington opponent this season. Offensively, the Wizards shot a healthy 52.2 percent, connected on eight three-point attempts and had five players score in double figures.

The Wizards never trailed and took a game-high 30-point advantage when Darius Songaila passed to Blatche for an easy layin with 9 minutes 26 seconds left in the third quarter. The Heat drew within 15 with 5:10 remaining, but the Wizards still wound up with their largest margin of victory this season.

Through it all, the word of the night was energy. The Wizards brought all kinds of it, while the Heat -- the team with the worst record in the Eastern Conference -- showed precious little.

"I've been in a slump for a while and wanted to get out of it so I just came out aggressive and tried to help the team any way I can," said Blatche, who is averaging 6.7 points and 4.8 rebounds. "We all came off the bench with lots of energy and were all very aggressive and then, things just fell for us tonight."

Dwyane Wade was coming off a 48-point effort in Miami's home loss to Orlando on Friday night but never had a chance to get rolling as DeShawn Stevenson and good team defense kept him check.

Wade finished with 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting, with six assists and seven turnovers, and appeared to lack lift on his jump shot.

"It was kind of tough because he's a great player, but I give a lot of credit to Brendan Haywood and Antawn Jamison," Stevenson said. "They did a great job of helping on him and when we helped on him, he had a lot of turnovers. . . . He didn't have Shaq so he didn't have anyone to go in there and be in force so he had the whole Washington Wizards team helping on him tonight."

The Wizards, who have played without Etan Thomas since training camp, Gilbert Arenas since Nov. 17 and Antonio Daniels since a Dec. 13 win at Miami, cared little that the Heat was short-handed without O'Neal and guard Jason Williams.

Miami has dominated the Wizards since the 2003-04 season, swept them out of the second round of the 2005 playoffs and won seven of their previous eight regular season visits to Verizon Center.

Coach Eddie Jordan played for Heat Coach Pat Riley when Jordan was a guard on Riley's 1982 NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers team, so any win over the Riley and the Heat is special, regardless of either team's injury situation.

"We have a lot of respect for them," Jordan said. "But it does feel good."

Wizards Notes: The teams meet twice more this season, March 21 at Miami and April 4 at Verizon Center. The Wizards last won the season series in 2002-03 (3-1). . . .

With Daniels expected to return to the starting lineup on Wednesday night against Detroit, the Wizards may have a decision to make regarding point guard Mike Wilks, who was signed to a non-guaranteed contract after Daniels went down.

The Wizards are right up against the luxury tax threshold and do not want to go over, so Wilks, who has appeared in four games, could be released. The Wizards are Wilks's eighth team in five NBA seasons, so when he dishes out the standard athlete cliche about "taking it one day at a time," he means it.

"I learned a long time ago that anything can happen," he said. "I just try to always keep myself prepared for any opportunity that comes along."

Should Wilks be released in the next few days, the Wizards would have the option of re-signing him or another free agent to a 10-day contract starting Jan. 5.

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