By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 28, 2008
When word came down shortly before tip-off that leading scorer Caron Butler would not be able to play due to a sprained left ankle, Andray Blatche, Nick Young and Dominic McGuire got together in the locker room and talked about forming what they call "the future three."
Indeed, solid efforts by that trio of young Washington Wizards, 29 points from Antawn Jamison and a strong fourth quarter sparked a sorely needed 104-95 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder last night at Verizon Center.
Blatche, who has steadily improved since entering the starting lineup on Nov. 5, posted 19 points and tied a career-high with 15 rebounds while McGuire, who made his third straight start, chipped in with 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
The victory snapped an eight-game losing streak and the Wizards (5-23) will have a shot at their first two-game winning steak at Houston tomorrow night.
Butler, who rolled the ankle during the first quarter of Thursday's loss at Cleveland, is day-to-day and will be re-evaluated at practice today. Oklahoma City dropped to a league-worst 3-28.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there had never been an NBA game matching teams who had played at least 25 games combining for worse records.
"It feels real good," Blatche said. "We knew we had to have this game."
The Wizards and Thunder have such poor records mainly because they have repeatedly failed to execute in the fourth quarter of close games. The Wizards have lost 14 games in which they either led or were tied in the fourth while Oklahoma City is 1-10 in games decided by seven points or fewer.
The score was tied at 76 entering the fourth, but the Wizards used a 12-2 run that Juan Dixon (13 points) capped by making a running bank shot from 12 feet out. The shot gave the Wizards an 88-78 lead.
From that point on, the Wizards used slick ball movement, timely shot-making and sticky defense to put the Thunder away. The Wizards held a 28-19 fourth-quarter scoring advantage and finished with 31 assists against only 11 turnovers. It was the first time Washington outscored an opponent in the fourth quarter since Dec. 9 against Detroit.
That also happened to be the team's last victory.
"It was a big deal," Jamison said. "It was nice to have a comfortable lead at the end and not have to feel the pressure that comes with close games. The young guys that were in there at the end did a nice job of sharing the ball, and they got back in transition to make it difficult for them at the offensive end. We have been in a lot of close games, but tonight we found a way to get it done."
On one key fourth quarter possession, Blatche spun baseline and found himself cut off underneath the basket but whipped a pass out to DeShawn Stevenson, who in turn zipped a pass over to Dixon, who then drained a three-pointer.
"Every coach's vision is to play unselfishly and share the ball," Tapscott said. "Then you can let the ball movement and player movement get you shots. We were able to move the ball throughout the whole game."
It certainly helped that the youthful Thunder, who start a rookie at point guard (Russell Westbrook) and two second-year players at guard and forward (Washington native Kevin Durant and former Georgetown star Jeff Green), has no idea how to win games.
As soon as the Wizards put that fourth quarter run together, Oklahoma City fell apart.
Durant finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds and Green posted 23 points, but the Thunder had no answer for Jamison, who dominated his offensive matchup with Green most of the night.
But a victory without Butler would not have been possible without solid efforts from up and down the roster, including Dixon and Etan Thomas (four points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes). Those two had fallen out of the rotation lately but made the most of their chances last night.
"You have to be a professional," said Dixon, who did not get off the bench in three straight games. "When you get your opportunity, you have to go out there and take advantage of it."
Wizards Notes: The last time the franchise went this far into a season without consecutive wins was 1966-67 when the Baltimore Bullets started 5-23 before winning three straight.