By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 7, 2009
SAN ANTONIO, March 6 -- The fourth quarter of the Washington Wizards' 100-78 loss to the Spurs at AT&T Center on Friday night resembled a preseason game as Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich emptied his bench as his team cruised to an easy victory.
That is what it has come to for the Wizards, who are usually outmanned and too often outplayed in what has been a disastrous season.
The Wizards (14-48) have dropped nine straight at San Antonio, with the last victory coming on Dec. 11, 1999. The task of changing that history was made all the more difficult by the absence of guard-forward Caron Butler, who missed his third consecutive game with hamstring tightness.
Butler was in his game uniform as he tested the hamstring while warming up before the game but the decision was made to have him sit out again as a precautionary measure. Butler will be reevaluated prior to Saturday night's game at Dallas.
"I'm probably going to go [Saturday night]," Butler said. "It wasn't a good idea to go on a back-to- back."
With Butler, the Wizards would've needed to play a near-perfect game to beat the Spurs (41-20). Without him, they didn't stand a chance.
The Spurs shot 52 percent for most of the game, finished with a 43-33 rebounding edge, set their defense to stop Antawn Jamison (14 points on 6-of-15 shooting) and easily completed a season sweep of Washington.
"Not enough," is how interim coach Ed Tapscott explained his team's fifth loss in the last six games. "They're just at a higher level than us right now."
The difference in point guard play was particularly striking as Tony Parker finished with 19 points and seven assists in 24 minutes while his Wizards counterpart, Mike James, finished with four points and two assists in 24 minutes and his backup, Javaris Crittenton, posted nine points and one assist in 24 minutes.
The Spurs blew the game open in the third quarter on a string of explosive plays by Parker, who ripped off a run that included a three-point play, a pair of free throws after driving and drawing a foul on Dominic McGuire and a fast-break layup that gave San Antonio a 68-43 lead.
"He treated our defense pretty much like swiss cheese," Tapscott. "There were holes in it."
The Wizards hovered within striking distance throughout the first half but went into the locker room trailing 46-34 after Michael Finley beat the buzzer with a three-pointer from the corner.
One sequence from the second quarter aptly illustrated the difference between the two teams. The Wizards trailed 36-23 and had a chance to pick up a pair of easy points when Crittenton and fellow second-year guard Nick Young raced up the floor on a two-on-one against Spurs reserve George Hill.
When the right play would have been to continue dribbling toward the basket until Hill stepped over to cut him off, Crittenton instead pulled up early and lofted an attempted alley-oop pass toward Young. Hill smartly knocked the pass away. Crittenton then missed a contested jump shot after the Wizards inbounded the ball.
On the ensuing San Antonio possession, the Spurs whipped the ball around until Finley threaded a perfect bounce pass to Tim Duncan for an easy score.
That was how it went all game long; the veteran Spurs working for the high percentage shots while the Wizards too often tried to make the spectacular play or were forced into attempting the difficult one by San Antonio's defense.
The Spurs didn't even require a big night from former Wizard Roger Mason Jr., who torched Washington with 25 points in a San Antonio win at Verizon Center on Feb. 21. Mason finished with four points on 1-of-4 shooting.
Wizards Note: Guard DeShawn Stevenson underwent season-ending back surgery on Friday morning. The procedure repaired a herniated disk, a condition that started bothering Stevenson during training camp and steadily grew worse through the early portion of the season. He was limited to 32 games.
According to the team, Stevenson is expected to make a full recovery. He's expected to begin the rehabilitation process in two weeks and be able to resume basketball activity in three to four months.