By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 24, 2008
The ball bounced off the back of the rim and fell toward the waiting arms of Wizards big men Brendan Haywood and Andray Blatche. Though not a single Charlotte Bobcat was near them, Haywood and Blatche struggled with each other to secure the basketball as if the game's outcome rested on it.
That was the kind of aggressive approach Washington took to last night's game against the lowly Charlotte Bobcats, and the result was a therapeutic 110-95 victory in front a sellout crowd at Verizon Center.
The Wizards came into the contest having lost 10 of their last 11 games, and the latest setbacks were especially brutal because one came at home to the woeful New York Knicks and the other was on the road Friday night to a Cleveland Cavaliers team that played with only eight healthy players, including two call-ups from the Development League.
Last night's victory at least gave the Wizards (26-29) some good vibes going into a three-game road trip that begins tomorrow night in New Orleans against one of the best teams in the league.
"This game had a lot of importance to us," said Haywood, who finished with 15 points, 7 rebounds, a career-high 5 assists and 3 blocks. "We definitely didn't want to go to these [road] games . . . on a loss, especially after we had two games we felt we probably should have won. This was a big game and a lot of people stepped up to help us get the victory."
Five Wizards scored in double figures, including all-star forward Antawn Jamison (22 points, nine rebounds) and guard DeShawn Stevenson (20 points on 6-of-11 shooting) and the bench contributed 30 points. Also, the Wizards had a season-low seven turnovers.
Charlotte shot 50 percent but turned the ball over 14 times and the Wizards converted those mistakes into 17 points. The Bobcats (19-37) have lost all three meetings with the Wizards this season.
Washington broke open a close game with a 14-2 run that spanned the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth. When Roger Mason Jr. followed a three-pointer by rookie Oleksiy Pecherov with one of his own, the Wizards' lead stood at 84-71 with 10 minutes 52 seconds to play.
After Charlotte drew within 91-84 on a free throw by Emeka Okafor, the Wizards scored on four consecutive possessions. Jamison cut backdoor and received a perfect bounce pass from Haywood before making a reverse layup, Haywood made a layup off a nice feed from Stevenson and Stevenson effectively put the game away by making three pointers on consecutive possessions.
Stevenson's second long-range shot made it 101-87 Wizards with 3:47 to play. That kind of surge has been sorely missing late in games throughout a stretch that has included several close losses.
"On DeShawn's second three, I was screaming: 'No' and then: 'Yes,' you know, one of those deals," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "It was a very confident sort of an approach for us. We just kept making plays that maybe we were apprehensive to make in some of these games. We were patient and we had good passing. That's some of what has been missing for us, good passing."
Caron Butler missed his eighth straight game with a strained left hip flexor, while Charlotte played without forward Gerald Wallace, who suffered a concussion during the team's home loss to Sacramento Friday night and is expected to miss two weeks.
"With the exception of a game or two, we've been in games," Jamison said of playing without Butler and three-time all-star Gilbert Arenas. "It's just that down the stretch whether it's a last-second shot or the last minute of a close game, we haven't found a way to get it done. But we can continue to play hard, continue to compete and find a way to win games."
Wizards Notes: No timetable has been set for Butler's return and before last night's game, Jordan sounded as though he is prepared to play without the two-time all-star for the near future.
Butler originally suffered the injury during a Jan. 27 loss at Milwaukee.
"I'm not speculating on Caron's return," Jordan said. "The best thing I can give you guys is to say that we are going to calm down his activity in rehab, maybe not fire the muscle up right now. Just let it rest."
The Wizards are 9-33 in games played without Butler since the 2005-06 season and 3-9 without him this season.