By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The Washington Wizards not only avoided making dubious franchise history with a 95-87 win over the Utah Jazz last night, they also may have discovered a formula for future success.
It includes plenty of all-star forwards Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, a healthy dose of rookie center JaVale McGee and second-year guard Nick Young, and the kind of fourth-quarter execution at both ends of the court that Coach Eddie Jordan has been looking for, well, since last season.
Thanks to those components and more, the Wizards closed the game on a 14-5 run and avoided a sixth straight loss to open the season, something that would have been a first for a franchise that has been playing since 1961.
The Wizards (1-5) won't know whether last night's win was simply a brief stopover on the way to a long season or the start of another playoff run for weeks, but it sure felt good.
"Pat Riley says there's winning and there's misery," said Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan, who won a championship as a player for Riley with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1982. "For us, there's relief and there's misery, so we got relief and hopefully, it's a sign of what we can do on a nightly basis."
The turning point came with two minutes remaining and the Wizards trailing 82-81. Normally, that is when Coach Jerry Sloan's Jazz execute a struggling opponent to death. But this time, the Wizards closed the deal.
First, Jordan called a play that had Butler penetrate and draw the defense before passing out to Jamison, who received the pass and made a three-pointer, just his sixth of the season.
Jazz guard Deron Williams (eight points, seven assists, five turnovers) then was forced into missing a three-pointer thanks to excellent defense by DeShawn Stevenson. Young, who had struggled most of the night and finished 3 for 10 with 10 points, gave the Wizards an 86-82 lead by driving for a layup with 1 minute 18 seconds to play.
After Ronnie Brewer missed a three-pointer for Utah, Young grabbed the rebound, was fouled and swished a pair of free throws for Washington. One possession later, Butler put an exclamation point on the victory by making a three-pointer from the wing.
Butler celebrated by pounding his chest as a crowd of 14,885 started to celebrate.
"I was thinking, I'm about to take this shot, I need this in my life," said Butler, who finished with 27 points on 9-for-20 shooting and nine rebounds in 39 minutes. "For real, man, I had migraines and everything. I needed to get some sleep and I can get some sleep tonight."
The victory would not have been possible without McGee, who continues to be a revelation after playing only two seasons of college basketball at Nevada. The 7-footer energized a mostly flat crowd in the first quarter by hitting his first three shots and blocking a couple of Utah offerings. He went on to post 13 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks in 27 high-energy minutes.
The most startling aspect of McGee's development is that Jordan trusted him to be on the court during a tight fourth quarter. McGee missed his only shot and had only one rebound in nine fourth-quarter minutes but his length and shot-blocking skill bothered the Jazz all night.
"I was impressed with him," said Jazz forward Carlos Boozer, who finished with 20 points and seven rebounds but was largely a non-factor in the fourth. "I was very impressed with him. Very long and athletic. Played great for them."
Last season, the Wizards followed an 0-5 start with six consecutive wins. Jordan simply wants to see his team play with the same level of effort, concentration and toughness tomorrow night when it visits Miami.
"What we saw tonight is what we can become and what we can be if we work hard for 48 minutes," Jordan said. "We respect that team, that coach and that system more than any team in the NBA. Obviously, we respect all of the teams but that one is on the top of the list. That was a quality performance against a quality opponent."
Wizards Note: Butler started the game wearing a pair of goggles to protect a cut above his left eye but discarded them early in the first quarter because he said he could not see.