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Hot Jazz Trumps Depleted Wizards

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By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 2, 2008

While getting swept out of the playoffs last spring by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Washington Wizards learned how difficult it can be to play without Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler.

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In case they needed a reminder, the Wizards and their fans got one last night as the Utah Jazz beat the Wizards, 96-87, at Verizon Center in a game during which neither team played particularly well.

With Arenas and Butler looking on in street clothes, the Wizards played well enough defensively to win but couldn't generate any kind of consistent offense. The Wizards (24-21) shot 37.8 percent, made only 3 of 19 three-point attempts and received only four points off the bench.

All-star forward Antawn Jamison did what he could, posting 31 points and eight rebounds, while Andray Blatche (19 points, 13 rebounds) and Antonio Daniels (18 points) had their moments. It was hardly enough against a surging opponent.

Utah (29-18) has won seven straight and is 13-2 since dropping consecutive games at the end of December.

Center Mehmet Okur led the Jazz with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists and point guard Deron Williams finished with 11 points and 12 assists. The loss snapped Washington's five-game home winning streak and dropped the Wizards to 2-4 in their last six games.

"We held them to 42.4 percent shooting and that's good against a team that leads the league in field goal percentage, but we just couldn't score," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "We couldn't keep up the scoring pace."

The Wizards finished with some ugly individual shooting statistics. DeShawn Stevenson scored five points, was 1 for 9 from the field and missed all seven of his three-point attempts; Darius Songaila and Roger Mason Jr. combined to make 2 of 12 shots and totaled four points; and rookie Nick Young missed all three of his shots.

"Defensively, we were there but we just couldn't buy a basket," Mason said. "Four points off the bench? That's not going to get it done, bottom line. We have to do better than that to be successful."

Butler missed his third straight game with a strained left hip flexor. He will be further evaluated today and could return tomorrow when the Wizards host the Lakers. Last night's loss dropped the Wizards to 5-22 when playing without Butler the last two seasons.

Butler, who has also been bothered by a stomach virus, tried to loosen up with the idea of playing but made the decision along with the team's medical staff to hold off for at least one more game.

"I'm just going to get more treatment and get my body right," Butler said before the game.

Utah's Williams was disappointed over being left of the Western Conference all-star squad but he has a big fan in Arenas, who plans on returning at some point after the all-star break. Williams was edged out in the all-star selection process by point guards Steve Nash of the Suns, Chris Paul of the Hornets and Brandon Roy of the Trail Blazers.

"He's a real good player," said Arenas, who has appeared in three all-star games and was voted in as a starter for the first time last season. "It's not that he isn't an all-star player, it just came down to the way Chris Paul's team played."

Like his team, which scored only 11 first-quarter points, Williams was sluggish early last night but masterful as the Jazz opened up a double-digit lead late in the fourth quarter.

During a 11-3 Jazz push, Williams made a 17-foot jump shot, drove and found Paul Millsap for a layup, passed to Matt Harpring, who made a jumper, and froze Wizards rookie Nick Young with a pump fake before making a pull-up jumper.

The Jazz led 85-77 after a dunk by Blatche with 3 minutes 45 seconds to play but after a Williams turnover, Stevenson missed badly on an open three-point attempt and Williams then curled around a screen and made a 20-foot jump shot. The Wizards never seriously threatened again.

"The best way to describe them is efficient," Daniels said. "They create good shots and they have guys who can make them. The work together and basically, they play textbook basketball. We played solid defense most of the game but we just couldn't get anything going when we had to."


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