By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 19, 2008
The Washington Wizards were playing well as the fourth quarter rolled along last night. But the New York Knicks, a team that was trying to earn a fourth straight win during an otherwise dreadful season, were hovering within striking distance as Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan turned to a lineup that featured four reserves.
When Knicks forward Zach Randolph flipped in a hook shot from five feet with just less than nine minutes remaining, a Washington lead that had been in double digits throughout the third quarter was reduced to six. It appeared that the Wizards were on the verge of letting one get away.
However, on Washington's next possession, rookie guard Nick Young drove and passed to an open Roger Mason Jr., who buried a three-pointer. The shot sparked a 15-6 run and sent the Wizards cruising to a comfortable 111-98 victory that avenged a loss at New York on Tuesday.
It was appropriate that Mason's shot was such a momentum changer because Washington's reserves were crucial factors in the Wizards' fourth win in five games. The Wizards (21-17) trail Orlando by 1 1/2 games in the Southeast Division.
Old reliables Antawn Jamison (32 points) and Caron Butler (22 points) led the way but the bench finished with a 30-25 edge in scoring, added 16 rebounds and more than matched the energy brought to the floor by the Knicks' reserves.
"There's one thing that the bench can always bring and that's energy," said Mason, who finished with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting and added three assists and three rebounds in just less than 22 minutes. "There's no excuse for anybody playing without energy because we're all young, so even when shots aren't falling, we can bring energy and make a difference to help this team."
Jordan was not pleased with his reserves following Tuesday's 105-93 loss in New York and challenged them to match the hustle and playmaking provided by Knicks reserves David Lee, Renaldo Balkman and Nate Robinson.
Last night, Mason, Young (12 points on 5-of-6 shooting), rookie forward Oleksiy Pecherov (eight points, four rebounds) and Darius Songaila (five rebounds in just less than 10 minutes) were difference-makers, and their coach was much happier.
"Our bench gave us a big lift in both halves," Jordan said. "It was good to see that."
Pecherov, who appeared in only his fourth game after returning from a severe ankle injury, is quickly turning into a fan favorite at Verizon Center.
The lanky Ukrainian made a 17-foot jump shot seconds after checking into the game in the second quarter and brought the crowd to its feet when he hustled and grabbed an offensive rebound midway through the third.
The play led to a Jamison jump shot that gave the Wizards a 10-point lead. Pecherov went on to add scores on a 12-foot jumper and a reverse layup.
"I just want to come on the court, play 100 percent and do whatever coach asks me to do," Pecherov said. "I'm just going to go on the court and do my thing. I feel like I can score and I can rebound so I just do what I got to do."
The Wizards led 61-57 at the half and the game would not have been that close had the Knicks not been so hot from three-point range. However, after the Knicks connected on 8 of 16 long-range attempts in the first half, the Wizards did a much better job of rotating to open shooters and putting a hand in the face of Quentin Richardson (21 points) and Jamal Crawford (19 points).
The Knicks missed all nine of their three-point attempts in the second half and could not sustain the kind of run that allowed them to take control of Tuesday's game.
Another factor in last night's turnaround was the return of guard Antonio Daniels, who sat out Tuesday to rest a sore right knee. Daniels finished with eight points and seven assists in nearly 31 minutes and said the knee felt fine after the game.