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Wizards get close in the end, only to fall short against the Kings

A driving Gilbert Arenas finds himself surrounded by a trio of Sacramento defenders in the first quarter.
A driving Gilbert Arenas finds himself surrounded by a trio of Sacramento defenders in the first quarter. (Rich Pedroncelli/associated Press)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 17, 2009

SACRAMENTO -- The Gilbert Arenas that the Washington Wizards had been waiting on -- the one who could go on explosive one-man runs and carry his team back from despair -- appeared close to returning on Wednesday night at Arco Arena. When his team fell behind by 12 points against Sacramento with little more than six minutes remaining, Arenas placed the team on his cartoonish shoulders and willed the Wizards back with punishing drives to the basket and dishes to his teammates.

Arenas scored 13 of his game-high 33 points in the fourth period. But the only problem was, with an opportunity to give the Wizards the lead late, his first step wasn't quick enough and an attempt at a crossover dribble wound up in the hands of Kings rookie Tyreke Evans. Arenas then fouled out as he grabbed Evans, who made two free throws to send the Wizards out of town with their sixth consecutive loss, 112-109.

"Fourth loss under my belt. I personally lost this game again," said Arenas, who has also missed a layup against Toronto and two free throws in the closing seconds against Boston and Indiana during this current slide. "It's frustrating, especially for me because I live for moments like this. The team has been behind me since we started and I feel like I'm letting them down right now."

The Wizards came to Sacramento with one streak they were hoping to continue and another they were hoping to end. The streak they wanted to keep alive was their success at Arco Arena, where they had won the past four games. The one they wanted to stop was their excruciatingly painful five-game losing streak, with those losses decided by a mere 11 points combined.

Obviously, the wrong streak ended for Washington (7-16), which hadn't lost in Sacramento since Dec. 21, 2004. The Wizards will practice on Thursday and end this West Coast road trip with back-to-back games against Golden State and Phoenix.

"I told our guys, all we can do is keep on plugging, keep plugging along," Coach Flip Saunders said. "To their credit, when you've lost the games that we've lost and you fall behind by [12] with six minutes to go, it would've been easy for them to say, 'That's it.' But they didn't. We got ourselves back in the game and had a chance to win it. It's frustrating."

Evans had a team-high 26 points to lead the Kings, who led in the fourth period, going ahead 100-88 with 6 minutes 18 seconds remaining when Andres Nocioni (20 points) drained a long three-pointer that sent the fans into a frenzy. The frustration of the Wizards was captured in the expression of reserve Andray Blatche, who ripped off his soaked headband and tossed it beneath the bench.

The Wizards went on a 20-9 run over the six minutes and closed within 109-108 when Caron Butler stole the ball from Kings reserve Beno Udrih and dunked with 17 seconds remaining. Antawn Jamison quickly fouled Udrih, who missed 1 of 2 free throws, setting up the final demoralizing sequence. Arenas said that he was trying to use a crossover dribble to get by Evans, with the hope that he could get a layup or an easy jumper for Jamison (30 points) if Nocioni approached.

"I'm right there. I'm feeling the juice," Arenas said. "I felt being back in my old self. Trying to dominate the end of the game and I was close."

But like his team, not close enough to get over. Instead, the Wizards had in a turnover and a foul, then had to deal the absence of Arenas for the final shot. "He could've gone a little sooner, but you give him the ball," Saunders said. "He was at his comfort level. [Evans] made a great play at the end, poking the ball away and getting the steal."

With Arenas watching and the Wizards trailing by three, Butler (16 points) demanded the final shot after the team was unable to get off a shot the previous game against the Los Angeles Clippers. But after taking a pass from Earl Boykins, Butler's potential game-tying jumper hit the back of the rim. "I felt it was good," Butler said. "I thought it was going into overtime. That's how it goes."

Saunders said Evans impressed the Wizards when he auditioned for the fifth overall pick, but they assumed that he was too good to be around for them. The Wizards made a trade before the draft to get Mike Miller and Randy Foye, while Evans went fourth to the Kings and has helped them have some relative success despite the absence of leading scorer Kevin Martin, who had surgery on his left wrist last month. Evans is one of the leading candidates for rookie of the year and he displayed an uncanny ability to attack the basket and muscle inside for baskets. He had a wicked juke on Arenas early in the first period, knocking Arenas off balance before making a layup.

Jamison led all scorers with 20 points at halftime, but he developed a mild left shoulder strain late in the second half while tussling for a loose ball. He went to the locker room with 1:46 left in the half. He returned to play through the pain, but afterward was thinking about another deflating loss.

"Last couple of minutes," Jamison said. "Coach always says, five couple of plays that determine who wins and the last week or two, all five of them have been going against us. We're going to continue to work hard. We're going to continue to stay positive and continue to try to win games."

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