Wizards Suffer a Letdown

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 16, 2008

NEW YORK, Jan. 15 -- With Gilbert Arenas back in Washington blogging that he plans on returning from knee surgery after the all-star break and Antonio Daniels looking like a member of the coaching staff on the bench, the Washington Wizards were again forced to ask Roger Mason Jr., their backup shooting guard, to masquerade as a starting point guard. The Wizards also were playing their fourth game in five nights in their fourth city.

They could blame tired legs, or the bad legs of Arenas and Daniels, but the reason the Wizards saw their three-game winning streak snapped with a 105-93 loss to the New York Knicks on Tuesday had more to do with defense.

The Wizards (20-17) failed to hold a team to less than 100 points for the first time in seven games, as the Knicks rode the hot shooting of Jamal Crawford and pounded them inside with Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph. Crawford finished with a game-high 29 points, as the Knicks improved to 11-26.

Making their only appearance at Madison Square Garden this season, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamsion led the Wizards with 24 points and 21 points, respectively. The Wizards now have gone from winning consecutive games against the team with the NBA's best record to losing against the team with the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference.

The good vibes from their dramatic comeback victory in Boston the night before -- when the Wizards overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit and closed on a 25-6 run -- were wiped out relatively quickly.

The Knicks smacked them right in the face from the start, jumping to a 17-5 lead in the first six minutes . They led 30-14 after one period, as forward Quentin Richardson shot 5 for 6 and scored 10 points. Knicks reserve Nate Robinson extended the lead to 22 when he knocked down a three-pointer from the top of the key with 6 minutes 12 seconds left in the first half.

The Wizards began to rally behind an unlikely source -- rookie Oleksiy Pecherov, who was playing in just his third NBA game. Pecherov hit three three-pointers during a 22-10 run to close out the second period. DeShawn Stevenson hit a three-pointer to bring the Wizards within 51-41 at the break, punctuating the shot with his customary face wave.

Although the Knicks played well, their fans didn't seem to notice as they spent most of the night celebrating non-basketball playing New York athletes. Mets third baseman David Wright and several members of the Giants, who will participate in the NFC championship game in Green Bay on Sunday, received ovations from the crowd.

At least Knicks embattled team president and coach Isiah Thomas got a reprieve from the "Fire Isiah" chants that have filled the arena this season.

The Wizards have gone 17-12 in the absence of Arenas, but the three-time all-star hinted on his blog on NBA.com that he could be returning next month. "I plan on coming back," Arenas wrote. "I'm going to be working out with the team. I'm going to be going full blast after All-Star."

When told about Arenas's comments, Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said, "I don't comment on Gilbert's blog. I'm a fan of it, but I don't have anything to say about it."

The Wizards are now 4-4 without Daniels and Arenas in the lineup. Daniels, who experienced soreness in the same right knee he sprained in Miami on Dec. 13, had led the Wizards to a 14-7 mark with him in the starting lineup.

The Knicks definitely couldn't provide sympathy. They are in the midst of another disappointing and dysfunctional season, and played their second consecutive game without starting point guard Stephon Marbury.

The Wizards also weren't the only team coming off a victory against the Eastern Conference's elite. The Knicks beat the Detroit Pistons by 24 two days before.

The Wizards will have two days to prepare to face the Knicks again on Friday, when Daniels is expected to return.

Mason scored 20 points for the third time this season. He got into a one-on-one battle with Crawford in the third period. Both players traded buckets and scored 11 points in the period. Jamison scored 13 points in the third, as he connected on three three-pointers to help the Wizards edge within 77-72 entering the fourth.

But unlike Mason and Jamison, Crawford kept on rolling in the final period, as he hit a series of difficult jump shots. He finished 11 of 18.

Jordan was called for a technical foul with 7:08 left in the third quarter after Curry gave the Knicks a 61-47 lead with a rebound tip.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company