Back Home, and Feeling Better
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Laughter and cheers could be heard outside of the Washington Wizards locker room following Friday night's dramatic 97-91 victory in Chicago.
The jubilation wasn't all about the game itself -- several players were gathered around a television reacting to replays of Bulls forward Andres Nocioni dunking over rookie Oleksiy Pecherov in the third quarter -- but the manner in which the Wizards won led to an outpouring of emotion unusual after a regular season victory.
Not only did the Wizards overcome the absence of shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson, who was ejected late in the first half after receiving a pair of technical fouls, but they erased a 20-point first-half deficit and dealt a major blow to the playoff hopes of a chief rival.
"This was a great win," said Wizards guard Roger Mason Jr., a former Bull who keyed the comeback by scoring 12 of his 17 points in the third quarter. "We were down in the first but this team has been resilient all year and in the third quarter, we were able to knock that lead down and come back."
The victory allowed the Wizards (28-30) to close a three-game road trip with two wins and set up an interesting rematch with the New Orleans Hornets (39-18) tonight at Verizon Center.
The Wizards opened the trip in New Orleans on Monday with a 95-92 win clinched by a Stevenson three-pointer as time expired. As they did in erasing Chicago's big first-half lead, the Wizards showed grit in coming come back from a 15-point first-half deficit against New Orleans.
In both wins, Coach Eddie Jordan received timely contributions from up and down his roster. Six players scored in double-figures Friday night and in Monday's win over the Hornets, rookies Nick Young (eight points) and Dominic McGuire, who helped contain New Orleans all-star point guard Chris Paul, chipped in as well.
With three key players out of the lineup with injuries and three rookies on his roster, Jordan does not have many options, but he made a move prior to Friday's game by making Darius Songaila a starter at forward.
Songaila finished with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting and made some key plays to help the Wizards complete the comeback. Andray Blatche came off the bench and posted his seventh double-double of the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
"It was a good night for both of them," said Jordan. "I just thought that going forward, veteran play would be very crucial for us. Darius responded very well and Andray responded very well.
Jordan indicated that Songaila will likely make his third start of the season tonight.
"I don't like to keep changing the lineup," Jordan said. "So we'll see how it goes and hopefully, we can stay healthy with what we have. The starters are veterans, and they understand what we have to do through this journey."
Blatche had started the previous 10 games in place of injured all-star Caron Butler and is averaging 11.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 14 games as a starter this season.
However, he struggled on Monday in New Orleans (four points and one rebound in 25 minutes) and in Tuesday's ugly 94-69 loss at Houston (six points on 2-of-13 shooting) so Jordan decided to shake things up.
"I definitely was motivated by going back to the bench," Blatche said. "I just wanted to come out there with energy and try to help us anyway I could. But really, I'm just happy that we got this win. To come back like that, it was huge for us."