By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
On several occasions as his team struggled through a typical third-quarter drought that contributed to a 101-99 loss to the Chicago Bulls last night, interim coach Ed Tapscott would glance down the bench as if looking for help, only to see several assistant coaches, three players in uniform and several more in suits.
That is how it's gone all season for the Washington Wizards, a team that has never met an injury report it can't fill or, in most cases, a game it can't lose.
"The story continues," Tapscott said after assessing the latest injury news in his pregame chat with reporters.
The already short-handed Wizards played without Caron Butler, who missed his sixth straight game with tightness in his left hamstring, and forward-center Darius Songaila, who sat out with a pinched nerve in his neck. Guard Juan Dixon left at halftime with tendinitis in his right ankle.
The players who did dress managed to put up a fight, especially Antawn Jamison, who finished with 34 points and 12 rebounds and almost single-handedly kept the game close in the fourth quarter. Javaris Crittenton added 18 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists, and had no turnovers for the Wizards (16-56).
However, when it counted, the Bulls had the necessary juice to win.
The Wizards led 22-10 in the first quarter and 47-41 at halftime but ran into trouble early in the third when the Bulls made a 15-7 push that guard Ben Gordon capped by making an 18-foot jump shot.
The Bulls outscored the Wizards 33-20 in the third and carried a 74-67 edge into the fourth, when rookie point guard Derrick Rose took over by repeatedly exploiting the Washington defense with dribble penetration off of screens. It helped that Gordon (21 points) kept draining jump shots.
"The third quarter has bothered us all season and it has caused us losses all season," Tapscott said.
The Chicago lead hovered in the eight- to 10-point range most of the fourth when Jamison went on a personal 8-0 run that he capped by making a three-pointer to draw the Wizards to 88-85 at the 3-minute 57-second mark.
The Bulls answered with an 8-2 run that included two more Gordon jumpers. Jamison didn't touch the ball during that stretch as the Wizards failed to score on three of four possessions.
The Wizards made one more late push to close to 98-96 with 29.1 seconds to go when Dominic McGuire fed JaVale McGee for a dunk. The Bulls answered when Rose drove and found a cutting Kirk Hinrich for an easy layup with 8.9 seconds left.
After a timeout, Nick Young made a three-pointer, drawing the Wizards to 100-99 with 3.6 seconds to go. Young quickly fouled Gordon on Chicago's inbounds play but after making his first free throw, Gordon missed the second and Jamison didn't have enough time for a desperation shot at the buzzer.
It didn't help that the Wizards were out of timeouts because Tapscott had to burn them while trying to stop Chicago runs.
"That's not what prevented us from having an opportunity to win," Jamison said. "When you don't play smart, it comes back to haunt you and we didn't play smart there for a few possessions in the third quarter and the fourth quarter as well."
Meantime, while Jamison was showing that he's the heart and soul of this particular outfit, $111 million franchise player Gilbert Arenas wasn't even on the bench watching the game. Earlier yesterday, Arenas announced that he is targeting Saturday's home game against Detroit for his long-awaited return.
Arenas hasn't played all season but has been practicing off and on since Feb. 16 and said he feels no pain or other discomfort in his surgically repaired left knee.
If Arenas does indeed return Saturday night -- the famously unpredictable Arenas left himself some wiggle room and Tapscott would not commit to a set date -- Wizards fans will at least have something new to look at.
"Until I see him out there out there on the court, what do you want me to say?" Jamison said when asked about Arenas. "It will be good to see a familiar face and a good friend out there but the most important thing is that he's healthy."