By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 30, 2008
LOS ANGELES, March 29 -- Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan once joked that Darius Songaila knows how to play basketball but "probably couldn't jump over the Sunday newspaper."
Songaila certainly won't earn an invitation to a slam dunk contest anytime soon, but lately, the fundamentally sound, 6-foot-9 forward has been playing some of his best basketball since signing with the Wizards prior to last season.
Along with all-star forward Caron Butler, who sparked a third-quarter run with a spectacular dunk, Songaila was a key factor in Friday's 114-108 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
Songaila scored 13 of his 17 points and grabbed three of his five rebounds in the second half as the Wizards erased a 16-point, third-quarter deficit to improve to 2-1 on a five-game road trip that continues Sunday night against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center.
Songaila, a former King, also helped the Wizards erase a 17-point third-quarter deficit in Wednesday's 104-99 victory at Seattle by scoring eight of his 10 points in the final period. Songaila has scored in double figures in four of the last five games and in March, the former Wake Forest star is averaging 9.4 points and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 53.1 percent.
The increased production has led to an increase in minutes, allowing Songaila to find a rhythm missing earlier in the season when he was bothered by a bad Achilles' tendon and was also fatigued after playing for the Lithuanian national team last summer.
"Lately, my legs feel a little better," Songaila said. "In the beginning of the year, maybe I was tired from the summer and then I had that problem with my Achilles' so I wasn't moving as well as I wanted to. Overall, right now, I feel good."
And it's coming at an ideal time for the Wizards (38-34), who remain alone in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, one game ahead of Toronto and 1 1/2 games ahead of Philadelphia.
With 10 games remaining in the regular season, Jordan has tightened his playing rotation, relying heavily on veterans such as all-stars Antawn Jamison and Butler as well as Antonio Daniels, DeShawn Stevenson, Brendan Haywood, Roger Mason Jr. and Songaila.
The Wizards are 8-2 in their past 10 games and veteran playmaking has been crucial in close wins over Cleveland, the Los Angeles Clippers, Orlando, Detroit, Seattle and Sacramento.
Savvy play was key down the stretch Friday night. After Sacramento's Ron Artest cut Washington's lead to three with a pair of free throws with 1 minute 20 seconds to play, Songaila lost his man with a backdoor cut and received a perfect pass from Butler before making a reverse layup in traffic.
After Artest answered with a long jumper, Songaila set a screen for Butler and both players read the defense. Songaila slipped the screen and slid to an open spot on the low block where Butler found him with a perfect bounce pass. Songaila finished the play by banking in a jump shot from 11 feet before the defense could recover.
"We rely on our veteran leadership," Jordan said. "They tell our guys every halftime, every timeout, every dead ball: 'Stay in it, concentrate.' This is just a tribute to our leadership. Antawn, Caron, A.D. and DeShawn. They really take hold of our team and lead our team. Sometimes, coaching is overrated because they just took over the game and got it done."
Wizards Notes: The April 9 game against Boston at Verizon Center has been picked up by ESPN. It will still be carried by Comcast SportsNet. . . .
The Lakers beat the Wizards, 103-91, on Feb. 3 at Verizon Center. The Wizards have not been swept by the Lakers in a season series since the 2003-04 season. . . .
The Lakers are as good on the road (25-13) as they are at Staples Center (24-11), where they've lost consecutive games to the lottery-bound Charlotte Bobcats and Memphis Grizzlies.
UP NEXT Tonight at Lakers9:30 p.m. Comcast SportsNet, WTEM-980 Tomorrow at Jazz9 p.m. Comcast SportsNet, WTEM-980 UP NEXT Tonight at Lakers9:30 p.m. Comcast SportsNet, WTEM-980 Tomorrow at Jazz9 p.m. Comcast SportsNet, WTEM-980