By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 19, 2009
The Washington Wizards were in a month-long funk; unable to start, unable to finish, unable to win. It was a miserable, frustrating period that left players searching for answers, wondering how a team with so much talent could play so poorly.
Antawn Jamison was a well-dressed observer for that entire period, taking note of what his team was lacking and what he could provide whenever he made his return.
Jamison finally made his long-awaited season debut on Wednesday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, coming around full circle since he partially dislocated his right shoulder against this same team during the preseason. He led the Wizards with 31 points and 10 rebounds as they snapped a six-game losing streak with a 108-91 victory before a sellout crowd at Verizon Center.
"One thing I've noticed lately is our energy level has been down," Jamison said. "I knew that I could come in and change that and [be] another added weapon for them to really key in on. I've been sitting down for what seems like forever, so I had a lot of energy. I knew it was going to be different from what we've been doing."
Jamison's influence was felt early, but he was a spectator when the Wizards pulled away in the fourth period, outscoring Cleveland 27-10 over the first eight minutes of the period. The run was highlighted by Caron Butler's scoring, some nifty plays from 5-foot-5 reserve Earl Boykins and some solid defense by DeShawn Stevenson on his least favorite superstar, LeBron James.
James led all scorers with 34 points, but he had just six in the final period as Stevenson frustrated him. James also appeared to hurt his wrist late in the game on a vicious dunk. "He looked like NBA Jam out there. Remember that old game?" Gilbert Arenas said afterward. "D-Steve always plays him well. This rivalry he just knows when he gets in, [his focus] is just defense."
The Wizards (3-7) received a standing ovation as Stevenson dribbled out the clock. Butler scored 13 of his 19 points in the fourth period. Mike Miller finished with 17 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists and Arenas had eight assists and 18 points.
But the Wizards weren't focused on anything except the win, which ended Cleveland's five-game winning streak and marked just the 11th time that Arenas, Jamison and Butler started a game together since April 4, 2007, when Arenas first injured his left knee.
"It's great to have us all out there together," Butler said. "That's been the talk for years, 'When is the Big Three going to be out there together, along with the new additions?' Antawn was great tonight. He kept the energy going. Gilbert did some spectacular things. I thought DeShawn did a great job of slowing down LeBron. "This is what we expect. We expect to win games. That's what happened."
The Wizards' losing streak began in Cleveland with a loss in which they blew an 18-point first-half lead and got pummeled by Shaquille O'Neal. O'Neal missed his third consecutive game with what the Cavaliers are calling a shoulder strain.
Coach Flip Saunders was hoping that Jamison's return would provide a much-needed energy boost for a team that had yet to win a game in November. But even his return was not going to solve all of the Wizards' woes, as they fell behind by 17 points in the second quarter.
Arenas struggled to find his shooting touch in the first half, but the Wizards managed to climb back and take a 60-57 lead when Jamison hit an eight-foot jumper. James responded with three consecutive three-pointers, but the Wizards scored the next seven points to take a 67-66 lead when Arenas made two free throws. Arenas gave the Wizards the lead for good when Miller found him at the top of the key for a three-pointer -- his first after missing his first six attempts from beyond the arc. He later pushed the lead to six when he drove to the hoop and got fouled. Despite scoring 14 in the period, Arenas sat the entire fourth quarter, as Boykins scored nine and had three assists.
Saunders said he planned on putting Arenas back into the game, but Arenas told him to keep Boykins in. Boykins said he noticed a hole in the Cavaliers' defense and exploited it. When asked what it was, Boykins replied, "I can't tell you, because they won't do it again."
The Wizards next face the Cavaliers Jan. 6. By then, the Wizards might have a better idea of what sort of team they have. But for one night, the addition of Jamison served as reminder of what they could become.
"This is what we envisioned before the season and during training camp when everybody was healthy," Arenas said. "This is the kind of performance and the kind of team we thought we were. Then Antawn went down. We started off well, but then we started to struggle. Now we feel we've got the team back. Now we're starting where we were at the end of training camp."