Wizards' bid for comeback, three-game winning streak gets blocked

Caron Butler's attempted game-winning shot is swatted away with 1.9 seconds left.
By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 21, 2010

There was pandemonium at Verizon Center, a small but boisterous crowd roaring as Antawn Jamison rushed to help teammate Brendan Haywood back on his feet with 6.7 seconds remaining on Wednesday night. Haywood had just drawn an offensive foul on Dallas Mavericks all-star Dirk Nowitzki, and as Haywood hopped up, his Washington Wizards teammates rubbed his head and patted him on his backside. The Wizards would get the ball back, down one, and an unlikely comeback suddenly seemed possible.

"We haven't been the best defensive team over the years. So when we get key defensive stops, we get very excited about it," Haywood said later. "Because this is important to us. It looked like we had some momentum."

But the excitement of Haywood's selfless defensive play proved to be fleeting, with the final possession producing an outcome that left Coach Flip Saunders and several members of the team smarting after a disappointing 94-93 loss. Caron Butler broke from the play that Saunders said he drew up in the huddle, and instead drove inside -- drawing a swarm of Mavericks defenders -- before Shawn Marion batted the ball and Butler to the ground as time expired.

"That wasn't the play we were supposed to run," a fuming Saunders said after the game. "That's not what was designed."

Saunders would not specify what play he wanted the team to run, but Randy Foye, who scored a season-high 26 points, said it was similar to two plays that the Wizards used in the final seconds over their double-overtime loss against Chicago on Friday, when Foye wound up with the final shots.

"It was either to give myself the ball up top, or get it to somebody in the corner," Butler explained, after scoring 20 points with 10 rebounds. "I obviously wanted the ball. I kind of had my mind made up what I was going to do. I just mistimed it -- and it was good defense. I just got stuffed."

The Wizards (14-27) trailed, 94-87, when Erick Dampier dunked with 70 seconds remaining, but they answered with back-to-back three-pointers by Foye and Mike Miller and trailed by one point with 27.9 seconds remaining. The Mavericks worked the ball to Nowitzki, but Miller pressed up against the 7-footer, forcing Nowitzki to drive to his right. Once he saw Nowitzki move, Haywood (13 points, 18 rebounds and 2 blocks) slid in front of him and took the charge , setting up Butler's final shot.

"That team is really good," Foye said. "To be able to play them that tough. To fight that hard and to do that much to give us a chance to win, it hurts to lose like that."

Nowitzki led all scorers with 28 points, Jason Terry had 21 starting in place of Josh Howard, who missed the game with a stomach illness, and Jason Kidd had 15 assists as the Mavericks avenged a season-opening loss to Washington. But the Wizards are a much different team than the one that shocked the Mavericks, 102-91, on Oct. 27. Butler and Haywood were the only starters remaining from that game. Gilbert Arenas has been suspended indefinitely, with Foye taking his place. Fabricio Oberto started in place of Jamison, who was out with a shoulder injury, and Miller is now being used in a reserve role as he works himself back from a right calf injury.

Since that win, the Wizards have had their confidence has been shaken after getting knocked around for most of the season, through difficult losses, injuries and distractions. But they also went to the court with a completely different starting lineup (they've had 17 different starting units this season).

For that reason, Saunders held back judgment on his team when he was asked to give the Wizards a grade for the first half. "Incomplete," Saunders said. "We're not where we want to be, no question. . . . Since 'Tawn got hurt in Cleveland, things haven't fallen into place."

But the Wizards were feeling more confident after winning back-to-back games against Sacramento and Portland. It was the fourth time this season that the Wizards have won consecutive games, but they hadn't won three in a row since April 4-9, 2008.

Jamison had a rare off-night this month, as he was held to just seven points on 2 of 10 shooting and three rebounds against his former team. Jamison was moving gingerly after the game following an elbow to his back. "My heart was hurt more than anything, knowing that I could've played better," he said. "I didn't bring it tonight. Right now, I got to do it. No matter how they play me, I got to find a way to get it done."

As he left the court, Butler ripped of his jersey and hung his head in disgust. "Any time you fall a little short, you wish you had the opportunity back," he said. "Unfortunately, it is what it is. I lost the game, it slipped through our fingers."

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