By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 20, 2008
ATLANTA, Nov. 19 -- For a fleeting moment, it seemed that cocky swagger that has come to define the Washington Wizards in their annual journey through adversity had returned. A desperate, hard-luck team appeared set to pull out a gutsy road victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night when DeShawn Stevenson dribbled toward the right baseline, gave Maurice Evans a slight nudge for separation, then drilled a jumper over him to give the Wizards a four-point lead with just more than a minute remaining.
Stevenson waved his hand over his face, rookie JaVale McGee patted him on his backside and Stevenson then jumped into Caron Butler as a stunned Philips Arena crowd looked on. It was a premature celebration, because the Wizards don't have the Eastern Conference's worst record by mistake. They've earned it in a season that has been marked by fourth-quarter mishaps and an inability to close.
And one minute proved to be too long for the Wizards to hang on, as Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams nailed back-to-back three-pointers to hand them a 91-87 defeat.
"I thought we had the game," Stevenson said after scoring 12 points, "but when it rains, it pours."
Butler led the Wizards with a season-high 32 points, carrying his team with a series of timely three-pointers and hard-earned inside baskets. Antawn Jamison added 18 points and a team-high 11 rebounds -- his third double-double of the season -- but neither player could get a shot in the Wizards' final two possessions.
"I'm not going to sit here and lie. It was frustrating," said Jamison, who took just four shots in the second half. "You've got to find a way to get guys the ball. That's not the reason why we lost, but I would've rather had the opportunity to score the ball."
The Wizards (1-8) led 87-83 after Stevenson hit his 19-foot jumper with 1:05 left, but they wouldn't score again. Johnson (19 points) cut the deficit to one point when he hit a three-pointer from the top of the key, and then came the bizarre.
Stevenson tried to respond, but his three-point attempt caromed hard off the glass, leading to a shot-clock violation. In the scramble for the loose ball, Williams whacked Jamison in the face, sending Jamison to the ground writhing with a cut above his right eye. The Wizards were forced to call a 20-second timeout, but the officials somehow advanced the ball to half court for the Hawks, giving them the opportunity to set up the next shot for Williams. Williams (21 points, 14 rebounds) caught a pass from Johnson and appeared to rush a shot that splashed through the nets, giving the Hawks an 89-87 lead.
Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan drew up the next play for Jamison, but Juan Dixon was unable to get the ball inside to him. Instead, Dixon fired a long jumper that bounced off the back of the rim with 13 seconds remaining. Nick Young grabbed the ball and rushed a turnaround jumper with plenty of time on the clock. "The play that we designed was taking forever, so I thought the clock was running out," Young explained. "I thought I heard Caron yell, 'Shoot it!' "
Jordan said afterward, "If I was on my horse, I probably should've called timeout right there."
Hawks reserve Flip Murray closed out the game from the foul line.
"I don't think we let our guard down," Butler said afterward. "They hit two big, big threes. We had our fate in our hands, and we let it slip away."
At tip-off, the game looked like a battle of which team was hurting more -- the Wizards with their depleted back court, or the Hawks with their depleted front court. The Wizards were without Antonio Daniels for the third time in four games with a sore right knee, and they have been without Gilbert Arenas all season. Hawks forward Josh Smith missed his seventh consecutive game with a sprained left ankle, while center Al Horford was forced to sit after spraining his right ankle in a 113-96 loss at Indiana on Tuesday night.
But the Hawks ended a four-game skid as Mike Bibby scored a team-high 25 points, with 15 coming during a game-changing third quarter, and Zaza Pachulia matched his career high with 18 rebounds.
Jordan tried to mix things up by inserting Dee Brown and McGee into the starting lineup. Brown pushed the tempo early, as Jordan had hoped, and the Wizards offense looked more fluid and crisp than it had at any point of the season; they had 15 assists and led 50-44 at the break.
"We had a groove going about us that was pretty good most of the game," Jordan said, "and I'm happy we're getting closer -- I would think."