By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 30, 2008
The crusher came with just more than a minute remaining and the Washington Wizards and their fans clinging to hopes that a late comeback was still possible.
New Jersey Nets star Vince Carter, the last man standing from a team that once featured Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson but is now mostly made up of youngsters and role players, squared up on Wizards all-star Caron Butler directly in front of the Washington bench.
He coldly drained a 16-foot fadeaway jumper that gave his team an eight-point lead and sent a sellout Verizon Center crowd to the exits.
Carter's shot was crucial, but it was ugly numbers put up by the Wizards that led to a 95-85 loss in the season opener. Washington shot 37 percent, was outscored 26-18 in the fourth quarter and managed one field goal over the game's final six minutes.
Butler and fellow all-star forward Antawn Jamison combined to make 9 of 29 shots and score 27 points.
With Gilbert Arenas out of action for at least a month and starting center Brendan Haywood out four to six months, that's not going to cut it on most nights, not even against a team like the Nets that is in full-blown rebuilding mode.
"It's real tough to win a game like that, not unless you're just getting stops every single time at the other end," said Butler, who was 3 of 11 from the field, uncharacteristically missed three free throws and missed his only fourth-quarter field goal attempt. "We just didn't play well tonight. Shots didn't fall for us. The effort and energy level was high but shots just didn't fall."
In a game that never featured much flow and had few exciting moments, the trouble really started for the Wizards after forward-center Andray Blatche (13 points, 6 rebounds, 5 turnovers) drained a jump shot to draw his team to 80-78 with 6 minutes 1 second to play. Carter (21 points on 9-of-27 shooting) responded with a jumper on Nick Young and the Wizards went ice cold from there.
Young traveled. Butler lost the ball out of bounds. DeShawn Stevenson, who connected on 4 of 8 three-point shots and matched Jamison with a team-high 14 points, clanged a long jumper off of the rim. Butler missed a turnaround jumper that rolled in and then back out. Stevenson missed a three-pointer.
The Nets capped the game with a 15-7 run. In addition to Carter, who finished with 21 points and six assists, New Jersey received strong efforts from second-year forward Yi Jianlian, who was acquired for Jefferson in a trade with Milwaukee over the summer, and former Wizard Jarvis Hayes, who scored six of his 14 points in the fourth quarter.
Jianlian, who was matched up with Jamison much of the game, finished with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting with six rebounds, two assists and a pair of blocks. The Nets shot 47.4 percent, turned the ball over only 12 times and executed when they needed to down the stretch.
"Your stars have to make shots like their stars did," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "Like Carter did. Like Yi did. Our top guys have to put a stamp on the game and they didn't do it tonight."
The Wizards led 46-44 following a tight first half that featured three ties and 11 lead changes, but they struggled to string together baskets in the third. Jamison, who finished 6 of 18 from the field and 1 of 8 from three-point range, missed several open shots and attempted only one free throw.
"I took too many jumpers," Jamison said. "You know me, I love to post up a little bit more. Out of the eight I took, probably three of them were bad. A couple of them felt pretty good and I felt they should've gone in but if they're not going in, those are bad shots for me, so we have to figure out a way to get me down in the post and get some better looks. Offensively, I just didn't play very well."
He wasn't alone.
Jordan played all 12 of his available players, including rookie first-round pick JaVale McGee, and utilized several different lineups but nothing really clicked. One bright spot was the energy and effort displayed by starting center Etan Thomas, who made his regular season debut after missing all of last season following open heart surgery.
Thomas finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and a block in 19 minutes.
Wizards Notes: It was the first time the Wizards opened the regular season at home since 1999 . . . The Wizards and Nets meet three more times this season with the next matchup coming Dec. 2 in New Jersey.