By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 11, 2008
PHOENIX, Feb. 10 -- The Washington Wizards have been hit with one injury after another but showed during a 108-107 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night that they have plenty of heart.
Playing without Caron Butler and Antonio Daniels, the Wizards threw a scare into the team with the best record in the Western Conference before the Suns finally put them away at the free throw line.
After Steve Nash (10 points, 12 assists) gave the Suns a 105-99 lead by making two free throws with 30 seconds left, Wizards guard Roger Mason Jr., who started in place of Daniels, answered with a three-pointer.
Grant Hill then connected on 1 of 2 free throws, making it 106-102 Phoenix with 16 seconds remaining. Wizards forward Antawn Jamison (28 points, 10 rebounds) cut the deficit to 106-104 by making two free throws with 8.8 seconds to go but the Suns successfully inbounded the ball to Amare Stoudemire, who was quickly fouled. He made two free throws with 7.5 seconds on the clock.
DeShawn Stevenson, who has been bothered by severe pain his left knee but still started his 218th straight game, made a three-pointer at the buzzer but it left the Wizards one point short.
"I was pleased with the way we played but we're not pleased with the loss," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "We fought and did everything we could to stay in the game but we just couldn't make enough plays at the end to get over the hump."
The Wizards (24-26) have lost seven straight and continue a four-game road trip at Golden State on Monday night.
The losing streak is Washington's longest since March 5-16, 2004, but nearly came to an end as the Wizards fought back from several 10-point deficits and briefly took a lead following back to back three-pointers by Mason late in the third quarter.
However, the Suns (36-15) seized control with a 10-4 run midway through the fourth and then held on after the scrappy Wizards continued to hover within striking distance down the stretch.
Butler missed his third straight game with a strained left hip flexor and is day-to-day. Daniels was out with right ankle soreness and said he may return Wednesday night when the Wizards close the trip in Los Angeles against the Clippers.
Stoudemire led the Suns with 31 points, 13 rebounds and 4 blocks.
Brendan Haywood finished with a season-high 21 points and was one of six Washington players to score in double figures. Jamison, Haywood and Andray Blatche each posted a double-double as the Wizards bounced back from a humiliating loss at Denver on Friday night, a game in which Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony scored a career-high 49 points on national television.
This night, Washington's effort was summarized by the fact that they finished with a 46-36 edge in rebounds and a 20-6 advantage in second-chance points.
"We were definitely embarrassed by our last performance and when you play a team like this, you know that you have to play good basketball," said Jamison, who posted his 28th double-double of the season. "We had some bright spots and did some good things but the most important thing is to get the win and we came up short."
The Wizards appeared to be on the verge of pulling off the upset when they went ahead 81-80 with under a minute remaining in the third quarter following a pair of three-pointers by Mason. Phoenix answered with a three-pointer by Raja Bell and a pair of Bell free throws to carry an 85-81 lead into the fourth.
The Phoenix lead reached 98-88 and 100-90 in the fourth but the Wizards continued to keep it close and when Mason made one of his four three-pointers with 21 seconds left, the deficit was only three points.
However, Phoenix finished the game by making five of its last six free throw attempts.
"I thought they played well," said Suns Coach Mike D'Antoni. "We had them on the brink about 10 times it seemed like, but we just couldn't hit the big shots to get them on the run and they kept battling back."
Notes: Shaquille O'Neal was in the arena for Sunday's game but did not play and has yet to make his Suns debut following the trade that brought him to Phoenix in exchange for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks on Friday.
There is a good chance that O'Neal will see his first action on Thursday when the Suns play Dallas. . . .
Suns guard Leandro Barbosa left the game early in the fourth quarter (flu) and did not return. . . . The Suns swept the series with the Wizards and have won 10 straight against Eastern Conference teams.