'Sloppy' Win Bugs Jordan

Brendan Haywood, dunking as Mike Miller and Rudy Gay watch, took advantage of the absence of the Grizzlies' best post player, Pau Gasol.
Brendan Haywood, dunking as Mike Miller and Rudy Gay watch, took advantage of the absence of the Grizzlies' best post player, Pau Gasol. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 26, 2008

His team never trailed, once led by 22 points and was only mildly threatened during a 104-93 win over the Memphis Grizzlies at Verizon Center last night. But as he discussed the game afterward, Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan sounded like a man who had just watched his team lose.

That, as much as anything, is a good indication of where Jordan and his players' expectations are as they reach the season's halfway mark with a record of 23-18.

The victory over the dreadful Grizzlies (12-31) came just two nights after the Wizards' worst performance of the season, a 121-85 loss at Cleveland, but it left plenty to be desired.

"We're happy about the win but we're not happy about the way we played," Jordan said. "We got sloppy, didn't run the offense, we had turnovers and didn't defend in possessions early enough and that allowed their guards to push the ball to the basket. We gave them some open looks. It was just a poor performance but we won. We just have to get better."

Antawn Jamison led the Wizards with 24 points and 12 rebounds, Caron Butler added 19 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals, and the Wizards shot 49.4 percent while forcing 20 turnovers. All five starters scored in double figures for the seventh time this season and the Wizards are now 6-1 in those games.

Memphis played without second-leading scorer and leading rebounder Pau Gasol (back injury) and was overwhelmed almost from the opening tip as the Wizards jumped out to leads of 14-4, 23-8, 27-9 and eventually carried a 30-9 edge into the second quarter. The nine points were the fewest allowed by the Wizards in an opening quarter in franchise history.

Two nights after getting blown out, 105-87 at Orlando, the Grizzlies looked sluggish early on. In the first quarter, they made only 4 of 18 shots, missed all five of their three-point attempts and turned the ball over eight times.

The Wizards converted the turnovers into nine points and rode guard DeShawn Stevenson. He scored 10 first-quarter points and swarmed Memphis guard Juan Carlos Navarro, who started in a smallish lineup that included rookie point guard Mike Conley, promising second-year small forward Rudy Gay, under-performing center Darko Milicic and sharp-shooter Mike Miller.

With the non-physical Milicic at center and Gay playing out of position at power forward, the Grizzlies' interior defense was soft in the first half and the Wizards took full advantage. Center Brendan Haywood scored 13 of his 15 points in the half and the Wizards held a 34-18 advantage in points in the paint.

The Wizards led 59-38 at halftime and 84-71 at the end of the third quarter but that's when some of the sloppiness Jordan spoke of appeared and Memphis drew within 86-80 when Gay followed a Miller three-pointer by making a free throw with 9:51 remaining.

"They are a team of shooters and they started making shots," Wizards guard Antonio Daniels said.

The Wizards responded by cranking up the defense and the result was a 16-1 run that Jamison capped by making a jump hook from seven feet with 4:18 to play. Still, the Wizards were outscored 55-45 in the second half as Memphis connected on eight three-pointers and held a 9-0 edge in fast-break points.

"We've got to get back to playing the way we were the last few games before Cleveland," Stevenson said. "And when we get a team down by like 20, we've got to learn how to keep that lead and put them away."

The Wizards reached the halfway point of their season with a winning record for the third time in the last four seasons. The team was 24-17 after 41 games last season, 19-22 at the midway point in 2005-06 and got off to a sterling 26-15 start in 2004-05.

"We got the win," Butler said. "There were a lot of negatives but that's the positive. We'll take that and get ready for the next one."

Wizards Notes: Butler has made 60 consecutive free throws. His last miss came on Dec. 28 in New Jersey. . . . Conley left the game in third quarter with a right rib chest contusion and did not return. X-rays were negative . . . Memphis has lost six straight on the road.

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