By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 7, 2008
The Los Angeles Lakers made a splash with their recent acquisition of Pau Gasol, and the Phoenix Suns did the same with a trade yesterday that landed Shaquille O'Neal. Until either of those teams or some other contender actually knocks off the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, they'll only be grabbing headlines.
The Spurs, who played last night without point guard Tony Parker, weren't at their best against the Washington Wizards, who played without all-star forward Caron Butler. It hardly mattered as they took control of a tight game with an 18-11 fourth-quarter push and rolled to an 85-77 victory at Verizon Center.
Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 23 points and nine rebounds but as usual, contributions came from up and down the veteran, championship-experienced lineup.
"They just execute you to death," said Wizards guard Antonio Daniels, who won a championship with the Spurs in 1999 and finished last night's game with nine points and seven assists. "They have a guy down low that they can go to and get a bucket every time and they surround him with shooters, so it's pick-your-poison. If those guys are hitting their shots, it's going to be a long night."
The Wizards (24-24) have lost five straight, matching their longest skid of the season. Things won't get any easier as the team opens a four-game trip in Denver tomorrow night. The good news is that after opening the season with five losses, the Wizards won six straight.
The Wizards won't play another home game until Feb. 19 when the New York Knicks come to Verizon Center for the first game after the all-star break.
Antawn Jamison led the Wizards with 18 points and Andray Blatche, who started in place of Butler, finished with 16 points, 15 rebounds and 2 blocks. But the Wizards, who shot 35.4 percent, couldn't slow the Spurs when it counted.
The Wizards led 58-57 after three periods but Spurs reserve Jacque Vaughn opened scoring in the fourth with a 20-foot jumper and San Antonio continued to roll with three-pointers by Robert Horry, Michael Finley and Damon Soudamire as well as scores by Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Bruce Bowen.
The Wizards drew to 77-73 on a pair of Blatche free throws with 2 minutes 54 seconds to go but the Spurs scored the next five points on a layup and free throw by Duncan and a 13-foot fade away jumper by Ginobili.
During Tuesday's 101-96 loss at Philadelphia, the Wizards were done in by a 17-0 fourth-quarter run. In the third quarter of that game, Butler aggravated a left hip injury.
"We know that with Caron out, we're going to need everyone to play as well as they can," said DeShawn Stevenson, who finished with 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting. "It's tough right now because we have guys out but there's nothing we can do about it. We just have to find a way to get a win."
Parker missed his fourth straight game with inflammation in his left ankle and the Spurs also were without veteran guard Brent Barry (left calf). But they still have Duncan as well as the league's best defense, which helped them to their third straight victory.
The Spurs have held their last four opponents below 90 points and in the fourth quarter last night, they held the Wizards to 5-of-19 shooting while outscoring them 28-19.
The Spurs (31-16) continue a season-long nine-game road trip against the Knicks tomorrow night. The Wizards have lost five straight games to San Antonio and are 8-9 against Western Conference opponents.
Still, Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan was encouraged by the way his team bounced back from Tuesday's debacle and at least made the defending champs sweat for their 11th road victory of the season.
"A lot of good things happened tonight," Jordan said. "Maybe we didn't win but at least maybe I can get to sleep [last night] as opposed to [Tuesday night] when I couldn't sleep a wink. I'm happy with the overall effort and how we executed on both ends of the floor, defensively especially."