By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 22, 2009
SACRAMENTO, Jan. 21 -- The Washington Wizards officially reached the halfway mark of their season with a 110-107 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night and though they are still in the Eastern Conference basement at 9-32, the win appeared to do wonders for morale.
At one point during the third quarter, as the Wizards' lead reached 21 points, veterans Mike James and Caron Butler were able to share an on-court laugh after a bad pass from Butler to James somehow wound up in the hands of Antawn Jamison, who made a layup.
It's never easy for these Wizards, so naturally the Kings started knocking down three-pointers and drew to within two points with less than a minute remaining.
Jamison (33 points, nine rebounds) answered a Beno Udrih three-pointer by driving around Shelden Williams before making a difficult layup and then Butler (32 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) essentially iced the game by making a pair of free throws with 19.5 seconds to play.
The Kings (10-33) outscored the Wizards 37-21 in the fourth quarter and threw a scare into the visitors when Francisco Garcia made a three-pointer to cut Washington's lead to 108-107 with just less than five seconds left. But after being intentionally fouled on the inbounds play following Garcia's shot, Andray Blatche (20 points) made a pair of free throws for the Wizards.
Garcia missed a rushed three-point attempt on Sacramento's final possession.
"I think they like drama," interim coach Ed Tapscott said of his team. "Even though it drives me nuts. They started getting it going, they made some three-point shots but we were able to hold on at the end."
The Wizards won because for most of the night, they feasted on one of the worst defensive teams in the league by shooting well over 50 percent from the field.
The Wizards finished with a commanding 47-31 edge in rebounds and a 56-34 advantage in points in the paint. Seven of Washington's nine wins have come when the team has finished with a rebounding edge.
Washington's four-game road trip, which opened with an ugly loss at Golden State on Monday, continues Thursday night in Los Angeles against the Lakers and concludes Saturday night at Portland.
John Salmons and Udrih each scored 24 points to lead the Kings.
Behind Blatche, who dominated Kings center Brad Miller with his superior quickness during the game's first few minutes, the Wizards jumped to a 19-13 lead. They carried a 31-21 edge into the second quarter after Dominic McGuire followed a Butler jumper with a putback dunk.
The Wizards shot 58.3 percent in the period with 16 of the points coming in the paint. It is that kind of efficiency and attacking mentality that Tapscott wants his team to display. The fast start helped the Wizards survive a second-quarter lull, and they led by 10 going into halftime.
The lead swelled to 73-56 with 5 minutes 54 seconds to play in the third when Butler followed a baseline jumper by Jamison with one of his own from nearly the same spot. Kings Coach Kenny Natt quickly called a timeout to try to get his team organized defensively but the Wizards kept applying the pressure and later went up 82-62 on a pair of Jamison free throws.
Sacramento made a brief push and got within 13 points on a three-pointer by Kevin Martin, but the Wizards clamped down defensively and closed the quarter on a 6-0 run to carry an 89-70 lead into the fourth.
Tapscott opened the final period with a lineup including Butler and reserves Javaris Crittenton, Nick Young, Darius Songaila and JaVale McGee and the Kings took advantage by going on a quick 9-2 run that Udrih capped with a three-pointer.
After a timeout, Tapscott got Jamison, McGuire and James back into the game but the Kings continued to scrap back and drew to 93-85 on three-pointers by Salmons and Udrih.
Wizards Note: Injured guard DeShawn Stevenson, who missed his 11th straight game with lower back pain, did some shooting before the game and said his back is feeling much better. Stevenson said he needs at least "a couple" of practices before returning to game action.