By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 13, 2008
As the assists piled up for the Washington Wizards in the fourth quarter last night, so did their lead over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Gilbert Arenas found Andray Blatche and Antawn Jamison for layups on consecutive possessions. Darius Songaila zipped a pass to a cutting Jamison for a layup and then made a jump-hook following a pass from DeShawn Stevenson. When Stevenson caught a pass from Jamison and drained a three-pointer from the wing, the Wizards led by 12 and were well on their way to a crucial 109-93 victory in front of a sellout crowd at Verizon Center.
Unselfish offense and gritty defense were key elements to a victory that kept the Wizards (42-38) alone in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, 1 1/2 games ahead of Toronto and two games ahead of Philadelphia.
The Wizards played without all-star forward Caron Butler, who suffered a bruised right knee during Friday's blowout loss at Detroit, but overcame his absence because Arenas (20 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) played his best game since returning from a left knee injury on April 2.
Antawn Jamison (25 points, 13 rebounds) and DeShawn Stevenson (19 points, 7 assists) came up big as well.
The Wizards, who can wrap up the fifth seed with their next win or one more Toronto loss, outscored the 76ers 31-9 in the fourth period when their 14 field goals featured eight assists.
"It becomes contagious," said Jamison, who connected on 5 of 6 shots while scoring 10 fourth-quarter points. "With Gilbert out there breaking the defense down with his quickness and then finding the open man, it just got us going and we fed off of that at both ends of the floor. We just really got on a roll."
On one possession, Arenas drove past Andre Iguodala, waited for Samuel Dalembert to come over to help and then dropped off a perfect pass to a cutting Blatche, who made a layup in traffic.
On another, Arenas spotted and then passed to an open Songaila, who in turn zipped a pass to a cutting Jamison for a layup, giving the Wizards an eight-point lead. Later, Arenas essentially put the game away with a three-pointer from 33 feet.
Arenas, who scored 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting with three assists in the fourth quarter alone, was so efficient, Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan was asked after the game whether such an effort was the kind Jordan would want from the three-time all-star in a "perfect world."
"That and my wife not arguing with me," Jordan cracked. "That would be a perfect world."
As the Wizards rolled, the 76ers went flat. The 76ers led 84-78 entering the fourth but Arenas scored seven straight points on a three-pointer, a 19-foot jumper and an 18-foot jumper.
After Iguodala (22 points, 7 assists, 3 steals) made a three-pointer to give the 76ers an 88-87 lead with 8 minutes 29 seconds to play, neither he nor his coach, Maurice Cheeks, could have imagined that it would be Philadelphia's only field goal of the final period (1-of-15 shooting).
Jordan mixed zone and man-to-man defenses and the 76ers, who lack a go-to post scorer, went ice cold from the perimeter. Washington's offensive effectiveness took the 76ers out of any chances to get into fast-break situations that helped them build a 10-point first-quarter lead.
"I think we run more when we get defensive stops," Cheeks said. "When you're not getting any stops, it's tough to run like we were running the first half."
Wizards Notes: Friday's 102-74 loss at Detroit marked the ninth time this season that the Wizards lost by 20 or more points. The team improved to 6-3 in the game immediately after such a loss with last night's victory. . . .
Philadelphia finishes with Cleveland and Charlotte, while Toronto closes the season with games against Detroit (today), Miami and Chicago.
Jamison said he, Arenas and several teammates plan to attend today's playoff game between the Capitals and Flyers at Verizon Center. Capitals defenseman Mike Green attended last night's game.
"My first hockey game," Jamison said with a smile. "Looking forward to it."