By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 9, 2008
At the end of every season, players and coaches look back and circle games that may have damaged their playoff positioning or maybe even their playoff hopes. And, if the Wizards somehow slip from the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference, they might first circle last night's 100-97 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats as a game they wish they had back.
"It's definitely going to be one of those," guard DeShawn Stevenson said. "We beat Charlotte many times in their place, our place. They came out with a sense of urgency and brought it to us."
Jason Richardson scored a game-high 34 points, with 31 coming in the first three quarters, for Charlotte, which won a franchise-record fifth game in a row despite going without a field goal the final 7 minutes 26 seconds.
The Wizards (30-32) trailed the lottery-bound Bobcats by 12 points with 3:34 remaining before they summoned one final, albeit futile, rally. Trailing 99-96 in the closing seconds, Stevenson pushed the ball upcourt and appeared to stumble over his own feet, taking any hopes of a win crashing into the floor.
The Wizards were given a glimmer of hope when Charlotte's Raymond Felton was assessed a foul on the play, sending Stevenson to the line with 5.6 seconds left.
Stevenson made the first shot and was prepared to take the second free throw, before point guard Antonio Daniels told him that Coach Eddie Jordan wanted him to miss the second, with the hopes that a teammate could rebound it and tie the game. Stevenson fired the ball off the backboard and it bounced off the rim. Antawn Jamison (30 points and 10 rebounds) got his hands on the ball but couldn't control it and the game all but ended before a sellout crowd of 20,173 at Verizon Center.
"We thought it was a good opportunity to sneak one up on them," Jamison said. "This is a game that meant a lot for us, and to come up short, it stings a lot for us."
The Wizards have been solidly in the sixth spot for several weeks, but are now just a game ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Coming off an emotional, overtime win in Toronto the night before, the Wizards were looking to get back to .500 for the first time in a month and sweep a season series against a fourth team. But the Bobcats refused to join Minnesota, Dallas and New Orleans.
The Bobcats (24-39) were without Gerald Wallace, who missed his eighth consecutive game with a concussion. But this wasn't the the same team that Washington blew out by 15 points two weeks ago. They entered on a season-high four-game winning streak, which tied a franchise record, including a 108-93 win against Atlanta the night before that ranked as the 100th win in franchise history.
Richardson scored 16 points in the first period, when the Bobcats shot 70 percent to lead 35-21. Charlotte took a 42-23 lead with 8:44 left in the second quarter, when Jermareo Davidson had an emphatic dunk. Roger Mason Jr. (15 points) hit back-to-back three-pointers to ignite a 17-2 run over the next four minutes, but the Wizards never fully recovered.
"They were a little quicker," Jordan said of the Bobcats. "You can't give up 30-something points [in the first quarter]. We didn't recover from that. We didn't have the athleticism and the energy to come back from that quarter."
Richardson was 5 for 5 in the third period, as he scored on a fast-break dunk, a driving layup, a pull-up three-pointer in transition and a turnaround 13-footer. He provided his best highlight of the period for last. Reserve point guard Earl Boykins dribbled around in circles, cut between Dominic McGuire and Andray Blatche, and found Richardson cutting to the basket. Richardson's momentum carried him just under the rim, but he still managed to windmill a jam to give Charlotte an 80-70 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Bobcats guard Matt Carroll scored 23 points, connecting on his first six attempts from beyond the three-point line.