Wizards lose on a couple of counts

By Michael Lee
Saturday, October 31, 2009

ATLANTA -- The Washington Wizards, just two games into their season, are already having their mettle tested. After losing to the Atlanta Hawks, 100-89, on Friday night at Philips Arena, the Wizards will arrive at Verizon Center for their home opener against New Jersey on Saturday with a 1-1 record and perhaps short another all-star forward.

Caron Butler was limited to just 17 minutes and didn't play in the second half after suffering a bruised left knee. Butler did not speak with reporters after the game, but Wizards Coach Flip Saunders said Butler might have injured himself late in the first period, when he dove to the floor to corral a rebound after Gilbert Arenas missed layup. Butler finished with just five points and four rebounds.

The Wizards had grown accustomed to playing without Arenas the past two years, with Butler and Antawn Jamison elevating their games, if not the fortunes of the franchise. But with Jamison already starting the season sidelined with a right shoulder injury, the Wizards are now unsure about Butler's availability against the Nets -- and beyond.

"I hope he bounces back and is back quickly," Wizards center Brendan Haywood said about Butler. "Sometimes it's frustrating, feels like we're cursed."

In his absence, the Wizards leaned heavily on Gilbert Arenas, who scored a team-high 23 points but missed 13 of 22 shots and had seven of the team's 15 turnovers.

Arenas dazzled the crowd in the opening minutes of the game, as he used a wicked crossover dribble to get Josh Smith off-balance, then buried a 19-foot jumper over him. He would later cap a 12-0 first-quarter run when he knocked down a three-pointer and held in shooting hand in the air as he spun back on defense, forcing the Hawks to call a timeout. Arenas then elicited some gasps from the crowd when he whipped an over-the-shoulder pass to Haywood for a dunk that gave the Wizards a 15-5 lead.

But after that, the Wizards flat-lined. All of the fluidity and crispness of the offense crumbled. They looked dizzy on defense, spinning around, while the Hawks went on a 24-9 run at the end of the first period.

"They sustained our punch. They threw back a punch and we couldn't get over the hump," reserve guard Randy Foye said.

The Hawks continued to pour it on in the second period, building the lead to 10 when newcomer Jamal Crawford hit a three-pointer from the left corner with 6 minutes 26 seconds remaining.

The Wizards trailed 56-44 near the end of the half, but it got worse when Arenas was called for traveling -- his fourth turnover of the half. The Hawks quickly worked the ball inside to center Al Horford who made a jump hook to give his team a 14-point lead at the break.

"When I got four quick turnovers and I just stopped being aggressive, worrying about how many turnovers I get," Arenas said, "I can't play the game like that."

The second half was like rock-climbing for the Wizards, especially without Butler, who left the game with seven minutes left in the second quarter and never returned. During a 20-second timeout with about 50 seconds left in the first half, Saunders addressed his team but Butler stood at the opposite end of the Wizards bench, bending his leg and massaging his left knee. He later walked toward the locker room.

Butler came back out at halftime, but after warming up with his teammates, he continued to grimace, shook his head and told head athletic trainer Eric Waters that he couldn't give it a go. Saunders inserted Nick Young into the lineup in place of Butler to start the third period, but Young, who didn't play in the season opener on Tuesday, had a dreadful game. He shot 0 for 8 and Saunders yanked him after he missed his first two shots of the third period.

Haywood had 19 points and nine rebounds, but the Wizards didn't have enough to match a balanced Hawks team that had five players score in double figures, with Smith scoring a team-high 20 points with two blocked shots. The Hawks also attempted 34 free throws and made 31, while the Wizards made just 14.

"We played hard and competed," Saunders said. "When you get outscored at the [foul] line by 17 points, it's going to hurt you in the long run."

The rough night was summed up with about four minutes left in the game. Smith, the former slam-dunk champion, blocked a three-point attempt by Arenas, then caught an alley-oop lob that gave the Hawks a 93-78 advantage. Smith screamed and shook his head, then bumped chests with Mike Bibby. The celebration started early for Atlanta, while the Wizards are again left to ponder another possible short-handed future.

"You're not going to win every game. You're not going to lose every game," Arenas said. "You just want to win more than you lose."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company