By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 26, 2008
CLEVELAND, Dec. 25 -- The Washington Wizards were on the verge of giving themselves a nice Christmas present in the form of a win over their biggest rival Thursday night when a series of tough calls and clutch free throw shooting by the Cavaliers resulted in a 93-89 loss at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Wizards (4-23) have lost eight straight games but were in position to hand Cleveland its first home loss of the season. They led 89-82 with just less than two minutes to play but failed to score on their final five possessions and were on the wrong end of several tough calls.
The game turned when Antawn Jamison (28 points) fouled out with 26.6 seconds to play after battling for rebounding position with Anderson Varejao, who made two free throws to give Cleveland a 90-89 lead.
The Wizards inbounded the ball to Dominic McGuire and worked it to Caron Butler but he was trapped near midcourt and passed to Andray Blatche. Butler cut and received the ball but collided with Cleveland's Ben Wallace and was called for a charge.
With the Wizards forced to foul, Mo Williams made two free throws with 7.8 seconds remaining to give the Cavaliers a three-point lead. After a timeout, Mike James (26 points) forced a three-point attempt with 3.3 seconds left but it missed and Delonte West then made the second of two free throws to ice the win for the Cavaliers, who improved to 15-0 at home on the season.
"I got a good look at it, it felt good but it just came up short," James said of the last play.
The other key factors in the outcome involved some questionable calls by the referee crew of Joe DeRosa, Luis Grillo and Courtney Kirkland.
Jamison was not happy with a charging call he was assessed with 1:16 to play or with the foul involving Varejao, and Butler felt he never made contact with LeBron James on a key play with 1:33 to play.
LeBron James was awarded three free throws and made all of them after missing a three-pointer over Butler. Those shots trimmed Washington's lead to four.
"We had a chance to win," Mike James said. "We were up six with two minutes to go and calls just didn't go our way, man. There was a tough call on Antawn, the charge and then another one on him on that rebound and then that tough call on Caron. But that's the way it goes sometimes. Sometimes, when you're down, you almost have to play a perfect game."
The Wizards weren't perfect but they played with energy and a cohesion that has been so often lacking. After posting a season-low nine assists in a loss at Charlotte on Tuesday night, they moved the ball beautifully and racked up 26 assists Thursday night. They held LeBron James to 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting and matched Cleveland rebound-for-rebound (41-41).
They didn't even need a huge scoring game from Butler, who finished with six points on 3-of-13 shooting with a team-high 10 assists.
The Cavaliers made 19 of 26 free throw attempts while the Wizards were 4 of 7 from the line. In the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers attempted 17 free throws while the Wizards attempted three.
Interim coach Ed Tapscott took the diplomatic route when asked about the officiating after the game.
"There were some poor executions on our part and a couple of other poor executions out there, too," Tapscott said. "Those were big plays that did not go our way."
Asked whether he cared to elaborate, Tapscott joked, "I don't make enough to get fined."
Next up for the Wizards is the only team in the league with a worse record than their own: the 3-26 Oklahoma City Thunder at Verizon Center on Saturday night. The game presents Washington's most likely possibility for a victory because the upcoming schedule includes games at Houston, New Orleans and Boston and then another engagement with the Cavaliers at Verizon Center on Jan. 4.
"If we can take something from the way we played tonight against a real good team, we're going to find a way to win some games," said McGuire, who grabbed 11 rebounds. "We played well enough to win this game. We should've won this game."