By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 11, 2009
In what has become a tired refrain for a franchise struggling through a listless season, the Washington Wizards once again blew a fourth-quarter lead -- allowing the Charlotte Bobcats to fight back from 13 down in the third quarter and then from five back late in the fourth -- and missed three potential game-winning shots in the final seconds to drop their fourth consecutive game, 92-89, last night at Verizon Center.
It was the 14th time this season Washington lost after entering the final quarter with a lead -- the last time coming on Christmas to Cleveland. And the late letdown wasted a stellar outing from the players considered to be the future of the franchise.
Rookie center JaVale McGee finished with nine points on 4-of-4 shooting from the field in the first half and provided highlight-reel dunks. Plus, Nick Young (12 points), Dominic McGuire (seven points, five rebounds, three assists) and Andray Blatche (14 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists) all turned in strong performances for Washington.
But it was not enough for a team still searching for its first Southeast Division win, and Washington remained winless in the second game of back-to-back sets.
"You've got to weather through it," Wizards guard Caron Butler said. "It's bad weather right now. You've got to stay positive. Somehow, someway, you've just got to soul-search [and] stay professional. And you know, this is a tough time right now, it's definitely tough. But at the same time, it is what it is. No help's coming no time soon and these are the guys we got and we got to go to war with night in and night out."
With Charlotte clinging to a one-point lead and the Bobcats blanketing all-stars Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison in the final seconds, Washington could not hit a game-winner on three tries -- first a missed runner in the lane by Mike James, then a missed putback by Blatche and then Young's off-center jumper.
But interim coach Ed Tapscott pointed to the times earlier in the game in which Washington had allowed Charlotte to recover from 13- and five-point deficits as causes in the loss.
"You can take a look at the last three shots that didn't go," Tapscott said. "We got a good look from Mike, we got a good look from Nick, we even got a tap. However, we were in control and we ceded that back and so we shouldn't have been in position where those shots were so critical. And we put ourselves in that."
Unlike Friday night against Chicago, in which they trailed 30-16 after the first quarter, Washington played with energy early.
A night after Young scored a career-high 28 points in a loss at Chicago, it was McGee that provided the highlight-reel moments last night, reminding Wizards fans of what the future may hold.
McGee, who had not played in the past four games, showed off his athleticism with several spectacular dunks in the first half, the most impressive coming late in the opening quarter when he dribbled up the court and brought the ball out with his right arm, displaying his 7-foot-6 wingspan, before tomahawking it.
Then, early in the second quarter, Young and McGee connected when Young spun in the lane to get to the rim, then dished off to McGee, who rose and slammed it home, giving Washington a 39-27 lead.
McGee led all Wizards scorers with nine points in the first half, and Washington went into the break holding onto a four-point lead.
"He looked real good," Butler said. "He gave exactly what we wanted him to give us."
But after building a 13-point third-quarter lead, Washington allowed Charlotte back into the game, as three turnovers and three missed shots allowed the Bobcats to go on a 14-2 run to close out the third and cut the Wizards' lead to one.
Charlotte took the lead to start the final quarter, but Washington built back a five-point lead with just more than five minutes remaining.
But more turnovers gave the Bobcats renewed life, and Charlotte went on an 11-1 run to build its own five-point lead.
Washington pulled back to 90-89, but the final shots wouldn't go.
"We are going to watch a lot of tape tomorrow to reinforce the things that we need to do," Tapscott said. "There were some things that we did early on that allowed us to get a lead, and we are going to watch some of the things that we fell prey to doing. When we do that, we struggle."