By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 23, 2010; D01
The remade Washington Wizards may have a distance to go before the overhauled roster can be considered a hit, but in Monday night's 101-95 victory over the visiting Chicago Bulls, they continued their progress with a resolve that often was sorely lacking in the team's previous incarnation.
Forward Andray Blatche led the Wizards with a game-high 25 points and 11 rebounds, and newcomers Al Thornton, James Singleton and Quinton Ross were significant contributors in Washington's third win in four games since the team parted ways with many of its core players.
Josh Howard, another recent arrival, had to leave in the first quarter with what Wizards officials said was sprained left knee, but even that bit of bad news couldn't completely temper the good feeling in the locker room after Washington (20-34) logged its first three-game home win streak since April 2008.
"I say this, no matter what we've had from a team standpoint, we've played our best four games [of the season] our last four games," said Coach Flip Saunders, who has endured a season with more drama off the court than on it. "As I tell the guys, I don't care what anything says as far as from a standpoint of what you're being paid, what your talent is. It's how you perform on the floor, and to our guys' credit, they are playing very well."
To the delight of much of the announced 14,113 at Verizon Center, the Wizards opened the third quarter with a 16-2 run to erase a 10-point halftime deficit and withstood a late rally by the Bulls, who trimmed the lead to 96-95 with 1 minute 55 seconds to play. From there, Thornton made a seven-foot turnaround jumper, Randy Foye followed with a 18-footer, and defense did the rest.
Thornton finished with 17 points and seven rebounds in nearly 30 minutes, considerably more playing time than he was used to with the Los Angeles Clippers. Singleton added nine points and a game-high 12 rebounds, and Ross had eight points on 4-of-6 shooting.
"It's just guys out there competing," Ross said of the new players taking charge. "We're going out there every night trying to bring it, man."
It was the second of three games this season between Washington and Chicago (20-34), which had its four-game winning streak end. In the last meeting on Jan. 15 in Chicago, the Wizards lost in double overtime, 121-119, despite 34 points from Antawn Jamison and a career-high 20 rebounds from Brendan Haywood. Caron Butler added 27 points.
Those three players, along with DeShawn Stevenson and Dominic McGuire, have since departed via a series of trades. The centerpiece of those moves coming to Washington was Howard, an all-star in 2007 who in his first three games with the Wizards averaged 17 points and four rebounds.
Howard had scored seven points but the guard sprained his left knee with 4:23 to play in the opening period and did not return. The injury occurred near the left baseline, and Howard lay on the court for several minutes as members of the training staff tended to him. Saunders said after the game he would know more on Tuesday but was "sure he will be out for a little bit."
Howard, who joined the Wizards during the all-star break after spending his first six-plus seasons in Dallas, has dealt with multiple injuries this season. He missed the first 12 games after offseason surgery to his left ankle and wrist, and he also has battled a sore hamstring and a thigh contusion.
"I'll tell you one thing," Blatche said, "it was just so crazy. When all these guys got here, the chemistry was like we've been together since the beginning of the season. We all have one thing in mind; that's winning. We're all working hard together, competing, and everything is paying off good for us."
Wizards note: A league official said Monday that the NBA does not plan to block a possible reunion of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and the Cleveland Cavaliers should the 7-foot-3 center reach a buyout agreement with the Wizards. Ilgauskas was acquired in a three-team trade that sent Jamison to Cleveland last Thursday.
The Wizards have been negotiating with Ilgauskas's agent, Herb Rudoy, over the past few days. Rudoy said that he expects to reach an agreement early this week and denied rumors that Ilgauskas's return to Cleveland was prearranged. The official said the league would only get involved if there is evidence of that. Ilgauskas has also drawn interest from Dallas, Denver and Atlanta.
Also, a person close to Mike James said that the veteran reserve guard is hoping to receive his release, rather than a buyout.
Staff writer Michael Lee contributed to this story.