By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 14, 2008
PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 13 -- In the battle of interim coaches, chalk this one up to Tony DiLeo and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Several hours after replacing Maurice Cheeks, who was fired by 76ers General Manager Ed Stefanski on Saturday morning, DiLeo led his team to a 104-89 victory over Ed Tapscott and the Washington Wizards at Wachovia Center.
Stefanski couldn't have found a better opponent for his team to face on the day he fired the popular Cheeks, as the Wizards came out flat, fell behind 12-3 six minutes into the game and never really recovered en route to falling to 4-17.
It served as a microcosm of all that has gone wrong for the Wizards so far this season: spotty defense, disjointed offense, a lack of rebounding and body language that suggested that a few of the Wizards would have preferred to be anywhere but Philadelphia.
Since playing excellent basketball at both ends of the court in a 24-point home win over Golden State in Tapscott's debut on Nov. 25, the Wizards are 3-7 and have only periodically looked like a team capable of snapping out of its early-season funk to make a run at a fifth straight playoff appearance.
Antawn Jamison finished with 17 points and nine rebounds while DeShawn Stevenson and Mike James each added 16 points for the Wizards, who shot 41 percent.
Elton Brand led Philadelphia with a season-high 27 points and nine rebounds while Samuel Dalembert had 17 rebounds and Andre Miller a season-high 12 assists.
"We fell behind early, we'd make a run and then they'd make a run so, you're sort of chasing your tail and we never caught up," Tapscott said. "We need to stop falling behind. That's one of our problems."
James, who was acquired in a trade Tuesday along with Javaris Crittenton, injected a little energy into the Wizards with three second-quarter scores, including a 20-foot jumper that trimmed Philadelphia's lead to 33-30 with 8 minutes 36 seconds to play.
Darius Songaila made an 18-foot jumper to draw Washington within a point with 7:51 to play in the first half but the Wizards missed their next eight shots and the 76ers went on a 12-0 run that Miller capped with a layup.
Tapscott quickly called a timeout and chastised his team's lack of defense, but Philadelphia still carried a 51-40 lead into halftime.
The Wizards entered the game with the 29th-ranked field goal percentage defense (48.1 percent), and that was welcomed by a 76ers team that has struggled offensively all season. Philadelphia entered the game ranked 26th in shooting (43.4 percent) but hovered around the 50 percent mark for most of the game with 40 points coming in the paint on drives and post-ups.
Rookie JaVale McGee started but played only six minutes as Tapscott primarily used Andray Blatche at center against Philadelphia's smaller lineups.
One bright spot in an otherwise dreary night was that guard DeShawn Stevenson, mired in a season-long shooting and scoring slump, got rolling for a stretch of the second half by reeling off 12 of his 16 points.
A Stevenson layup drew the Wizards within 92-76 but Willie Green answered with a three-point play. The Wizards dropped to 1-12 when allowing 100 points this season.
"We just really stunk up the first five minutes of the game and that was terrible," Stevenson said. "We've got to find something and find it quick or we're going to look up real soon and be in a real tough situation."
Wizards Notes: Tuesday's trade may not be the last move team president Ernie Grunfeld makes before the Feb. 19 trading deadline.
According to several sources, the team is open to moving veteran center Etan Thomas, whose contract runs through next season. However, Thomas has a 15 percent trade kicker, a provision that was put into the contract by the Milwaukee Bucks when they signed him to a six-year, $36 million restricted free agent offer sheet in 2004. The Wizards matched the offer.
In October, the team was close to a deal that would have sent Thomas and Daniels to Chicago as a part of a package that would have brought Larry Hughes back to Washington, but the deal fell through after Hughes was injured. . . .
Assistant Coach Randy Ayers made his first road trip since undergoing a medical procedure on his neck on Nov. 25. However, Ayers still hasn't been cleared to sit on the bench during games out of fear that he may be hurt if a player were to fall into him.
Ayers said he could be back on the bench in a "couple of weeks."