By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 30 -- The Wizards were competitive with the New Orleans Hornets in nearly every way Tuesday night except for one: The Hornets have Chris Paul.
Paul's seventh career triple-double (15 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds) and the absence of Wizards all-star forward Caron Butler, who missed his third straight game with a sprained left ankle, were key factors in a 97-85 Hornets win at New Orleans Arena.
The Wizards (6-24) had won two straight for the first time all season but saw any hopes for pulling off an upset dashed in the fourth quarter when Paul and the Hornets (19-9) methodically pulled away.
Antawn Jamison led the Wizards with 22 points and 12 rebounds while Mike James, who was acquired from New Orleans in exchange for Antonio Daniels on Dec. 10, added 16 points before fouling out with just less than three minutes to play.
Both teams shot 45 percent but the Hornets held a 26-19 edge in assists and a 10-1 advantage in made three-pointers, products of the way Paul repeatedly broke down the Washington defense before either creating his own shot or one for a teammate.
"It's a well-constructed team and concept," Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott said. "They have Chris Paul with the ball and he has the best vision in the league, and then you've got some big guys who can catch around the basket so they roll, and then they've got guys who space you out and can hit the three, so you end up picking your poison and you end up making some very difficult choices."
DeShawn Stevenson's buzzer-beating three-point heave from 42 feet out tied the game at 46 at halftime. The Hornets led 68-63 entering the fourth before pulling away with a short burst that included two Paul free throws, a fast-break layup by Paul and a dunk by Rasual Butler off a Paul assist.
The Wizards did what they could to contain Paul by meeting him out high with a second defender, but Butler (21 points on 8-of-11 shooting), David West (20 points on 8-of-15 shooting) and James Posey (14 points on 3-of-5 shooting) made the Wizards pay when they either got caught trapping Paul or when they were late rotating to an open shooter.
"CP did a great job of finding me," Rasual Butler said. "They tried to double down on David [West] but when we got in our rotation on the clean swings, I was able to knock down some shots."
Offensively, the Wizards were solid but made only 1 of 9 three-point attempts and 12 of 18 free throw attempts.
Washington's next game is Friday night at Boston and that is followed by Sunday's home game against Cleveland. Whether Caron Butler will be back for either game remains to be seen. He said his ankle is still swollen and painful and he will undergo an MRI exam on Wednesday morning to determine the extent of the damage.
Butler suffered the injury in the first quarter of Thursday's loss at Cleveland and aggravated it later in that game. The ankle puffed up on the flight home and has bothered him ever since.
"Right now, I can't push off on it," Butler said.
The Wizards are 2-1 without Butler so far, but Paul's performance Tuesday night was a reminder that stars get it done in the NBA. The 6-foot, 175-pounder, in his fourth season out of Wake Forest, is among the toughest players to defend in the league. He never seems to play in a rush, and yet it's almost impossible to keep up with him.
"He never gives up his dribble," said Wizards guard Juan Dixon, who defended Paul at various points throughout the game. "Gilbert [Arenas] and I were watching him in the first half and Byron Scott didn't call a play when Paul was in the game. He allowed him to do his thing. When you're guarding him you're going to run into a lot of picks and you need help from your big guys but at the same time, they have bigs who can roll to the basket and hurt you and then, they have shooters. They are tough to defend."
Wizards Notes: For the second consecutive game, Tapscott used all 11 available players. . . .
So much for Southeastern Conference loyalty. Members of the Alabama football team, in town for Friday's Sugar Bowl against Utah, were savagely booed after being introduced over the public address system. The crowd then broke into a chant of "L-S-U," "L-S-U."