By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 1, 2010; D05
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- With each game, each converted up-and-under move, each dropped jump shot and each driving basket, Andray Blatche's confidence continues to grow. On Sunday night, Blatche found himself in an incredible rhythm against the New Jersey Nets, matched up against Yi Jianlian.
Blatche didn't hesitate to attack the basket -- as he did on an impressive one-handed dunk over Yi -- and coolly stepping back to drain jumpers, showing the versatility and tenacity that the undermanned and overhauled Washington Wizards sorely needed after falling behind by 14 points in the first half.
Blatche scored a career-high 36 points with 15 rebounds in leading the Washington Wizards to an 89-85 victory at Izod Center.
But after Blatche carried his team offensively for nearly 39 minutes, New Jersey native Randy Foye showed his appreciation by taking the team back home with a win. Foye made two baseline jumpers in the final minute to break an 83-83 tie, as the Wizards (21-36) improved to 3-0 this season against the woeful Nets, who are still hoping to avoid posting the worst record in NBA history.
"We didn't want to be the talk of ESPN," newcomer Al Thornton said.
The Nets (6-53) have been bad all season, but they were coming off an impressive win the day before in Boston. They built an early lead behind Brook Lopez, point guard Devin Harris and Yi. Harris, a former all-star point guard, had missed the first two games against the Wizards with injuries, but he torched them for 11 points and eight assists in the first period.
The Wizards trailed, 46-32, with five minutes left in the second period, but in the second half, Coach Flip Saunders switched to a zone defense, which disrupted the Nets and Harris in particular. Harris finished with just 18 points, but missed 16 of his final 19 shots.
On offense, Saunders simply put the ball in Blatche's hands and let him work. Blatche erupted for 14 points in the third period, as the Wizards outscored the Nets, 25-18, and took a one-point lead into the final period.
With Antawn Jamison in Cleveland and Brendan Haywood in Dallas, Blatche is still adjusting to playing heavy minutes and hauling an increased offensive load. He admitted that he was "a little winded" in the fourth quarter. But late in the period, with his jersey drenched in sweat, Blatche fought through the fatigue, gave Lopez a pump fake, then drove around him for a layup. He later rebounded Thornton's miss and had a putback layup to give the Wizards a 79-72 lead.
Nets reserve Terrance Williams scored seven points during a 9-0 run and gave his team an 81-79 lead with 3 minutes 41 seconds remaining on a fast-break dunk. JaVale McGee then tied the score at 81 with a dunk and Blatche hit a jumper to give the Wizards a two-point lead. Yi (20 points, 19 rebounds) tied the score by making two of four free throws.
In the final minute, the Wizards worked the ball to Foye, who was having a difficult shooting night, missing nine of his first 11 attempts, including two air balls. But Foye blocked out his misses and drove around to the left baseline, where he buried a 15-foot jumper to put the Wizards ahead, 85-83. After Harris missed a runner in the lane, Foye went back to a similar spot, where he drained another jumper, this time over Yi.
"I wasn't shooting well, and I never put my head down and thought to myself, 'Aw man I can't do this,' " Foye said after scoring 16 points.
The last time the Wizards were in New Jersey, they needed Earl Boykins to bail them out with a 17-foot jumper with four-tenths of a second remaining as they escaped with an 81-79 victory. But in the past month, the Wizards have undergone a dramatic roster turnover, opening the door for Blatche to take his star turn.
"I'm excited over the way things are going for me," Blatche said. "Everything is starting to pan out and my goals are coming true."
In the past seven games, Blatche is averaging 26.6 points and 11.7 rebounds for the Wizards, who have gone 4-3 since their trade deadline deals. "That's pretty dang impressive," Saunders said. "I don't think anyone has gone from where he was to playing at the level he's playing consistently. That's a credit to him. He just hung in there. There have been some times where we've questioned his commitment and one of the things he's done is be extremely professional since the trades in his approach, but as he keeps on going, expectations keep on raising and at this point, he's risen to the expectations."