By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 5, 2009
The Washington Wizards haven't been able to win many games with Caron Butler and his average contributions of 20 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists per game, so when the two-time all-star came down with the flu yesterday morning and couldn't make it to Verizon Center for a game against the New Jersey Nets, the result was predictable.
After playing competitive basketball for most of the first half -- even taking a seven-point lead at one point during the second quarter -- the Wizards were overwhelmed by the lethal back-court combination of Devin Harris and Vince Carter en route to a 115-88 loss.
The Wizards (10-39) were already short-handed because of injuries to Gilbert Arenas, Brendan Haywood, DeShawn Stevenson, Etan Thomas, Juan Dixon and Andray Blatche, so Butler's absence left interim coach Ed Tapscott with eight healthy bodies.
They weren't good enough -- not on a night when the Nets (23-27) shot better than 60 percent for the first time since 2003 while making 12 three-pointers, and when Wizards forward Antawn Jamison struggled to knock down shots.
Jamison had made 48.9 percent of his shots over the previous seven games and has been posting double-doubles on a regular basis. But he was swarmed by the Nets' defense, missed four of his first five shots and never did find a groove en route to finishing with 10 points on 4-of-20 shooting in 40 minutes.
Without a strong night from their lone remaining regular starter, the Wizards were cooked. They shot 42.4 percent and made only 3 of 18 three-point attempts. Nick Young, who made his third start of the season, led the Wizards with 21 points on 10-of-20 shooting but the major problems were on defense, as Harris (26 points and seven assists) had his way.
"We had enough for a half," interim coach Ed Tapscott said. "The thing we talked about at halftime was getting their pick and roll under control but we never could get Harris corralled. We tried every pick-and-roll concept we have. We zoned it, we switched it, we blued it, we redded it. . . . We ran out of colors and never could get it under control. And then, when we sucked in, they started making shots."
Rookie center JaVale McGee had a few nice moments for the Wizards and finished with 10 points and five rebounds, and seldom-used second-year forward Oleksiy Pecherov chipped in with a season-high 13 points off the bench. But those contributions couldn't make up for a balanced attack by the Nets, who abused Washington's zone defense in the third quarter with a combination of dribble penetration and sharp perimeter shooting.
The team's struggles were perfectly illustrated by a third-quarter play in which Harris ran a textbook high pick and roll with rookie center Brook Lopez.
When McGee and Darius Songaila got caught between Harris and the basket, Lopez rolled down the lane, caught a lob pass from Harris and threw down a two-handed dunk.
Songaila, who is perhaps the most fundamentally sound player on the team, immediately turned to the Wizards' bench and held his hands up in front of his body as if to ask Tapscott and the staff, "What happened?"
Those kinds of miscommunications and breakdowns have been happening all season and the situation hasn't been helped by the constant shuffling of players in and out of the lineup because of injuries and poor play.
"It's tough, especially with such a young team," said guard Mike James, who finished with 13 points and two assists. "Going into a game like this, you have to play without too many mistakes, minimize your mistakes, and we got to rushing and everyone tried to put in on their own shoulders and it got out of hand."
Wizards Notes: Arenas has not been on the bench for the last few games because he has been rehabilitating his surgically repaired left knee with an athletic trainer during the games. Arenas has recently been able to increase his level of activity after meeting with a knee specialist in Miami, where the Wizards played last week, but no firm timetable has been set for his return. . . .
A crowd of 12,602 didn't have much to cheer for during the second half but a chant of "Ed-die Jor-dan" did go up for a brief span early in the fourth quarter. The team dropped to 8-29 since Jordan was fired on Nov. 24 following a 1-10 start. . . .
Former Wizard Jarvis Hayes scored eight points for the Nets.