By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 3, 2008
The Washington Wizards already own a pair of victories over the Boston Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks this season and with last night's 101-84 win over the New Orleans Hornets at Verizon Center, they can add another name to the list of impressive teams they've mastered.
The victory came just six days after the Wizards erased a 15-point first-half deficit in New Orleans and emerged with a 95-92 win thanks to DeShawn Stevenson's career-high 33 points and game-winning three-pointer.
Last night, the big scoring effort was provided by all-star forward Antawn Jamison (28 points) but plenty of help came from other sources, such as a defense that held the high-powered Hornets to 41 percent shooting while converting 15 New Orleans turnovers into 19 points. The Wizards also matched a season low with seven turnovers.
And unlike Monday night, when Stevenson dribbled the length of the court before making the first game-winning basket of his 8 1/2 -season NBA career, last-second heroics were not required as the Wizards (29-30) put away the Hornets (39-19) with a 19-0 fourth-quarter run that was one of the most efficient stretches of basketball the team has played all season.
By the time Stevenson (16 points, five assists) gave the Wizards a 99-79 lead by making a three-pointer from the top of the key with one minute 52 seconds remaining, satisfied fans were able to start heading for the exits.
"The turning point of the game was when we really started defending at the rim," said Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan, who earned a season sweep over New Orleans counterpart Byron Scott, whom Jordan worked under as an assistant in New Jersey for four seasons. "We got some stops at the rim and we did a great job defensively. Then DeShawn woke up and made some timely shots for us and we just controlled the game."
The Wizards have won four of their last five games and appear to be adjusting to life without two-time all-star forward Caron Butler the way they adapted to playing without three-time all-star guard Gilbert Arenas earlier in the season.
Butler has missed 12 straight and 15 of the last 17 games with a hip injury and will be evaluated again this week. Arenas (left knee) has been out since Nov. 17 and hopes to return before the end of the regular season.
"It took a little bit of time because it was like shellshock," said reserve guard Roger Mason Jr., who chipped in with six points. "But it comes to a point where you say, 'This is who we are and where we are at right now' and guys have to step up. Over the last few games, we've been able to do that and we're playing well."
At the conclusion of a first half during which the Hornets mostly played sloppy basketball and the Wizards played with energy, Washington led 53-40. However, it didn't take long for the Hornets to get going.
The lead was down to 62-59 when Hornets all-star point guard Chris Paul (16 points, 8 assists and 6 turnovers) capped a 9-2 run with a drive and layup. But the Wizards kept their poise and after entering the fourth quarter with a 74-69 lead, they beat back another New Orleans push that reserve guard Mike James ended with a free throw, making it 80-79 Wizards with 6:40 to play.
The decisive 19-0 push featured three-pointers by Jamison and Stevenson and a series of aggressive defensive plays that included two Haywood blocks and a pair of forced turnovers.
"We took their run and that's what basketball is about," said point guard Antonio Daniels. "We had to take their run and be mature enough and understand each other well enough to know how to counter with our own run and we did that."
A win over the division-leading Orlando Magic at Verizon Center on Wednesday night would move the Wizards back to .500 for the first time since they were 24-24 following a home loss to San Antonio on Feb. 6.
The Wizards are solidly in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, 2 1/2 games ahead of Philadelphia and three games ahead of eighth-place New Jersey. A major reason has been the team's success against Boston, New Orleans and Dallas, which hold three of the top nine records in the league. Somehow, Washington has been able to play some its best basketball against teams that haven't taken it as seriously as they should.
"That's the problem," Scott said. "They think they can't get beat by this team twice, and that's why we got our butts kicked both times. That's to be just point-blank with your guys. I just don't know if these guys respected them enough."