By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 1, 2010; D01
NEW ORLEANS -- Mike Miller curled around a screen from Andray Blatche, cut down the middle of the lane and scooped in a bank shot over New Orleans forward Morris Peterson. As he ran back on defense, Miller looked at Coach Flip Saunders, smiled and shouted, "I made a layup!"
Like a proud father, Saunders smiled back and gave Miller a thumbs-up. When you have had a month like the Wizards had in March, you have to appreciate the small victories because the big ones have been so hard to come by. But on Wednesday night, the Wizards had more reason to celebrate as they finally snapped a franchise-record 16-game losing streak and escaped New Orleans with a 96-91 victory.
Miller scored a season-high 27 points, including two free throws to secure the win. Blatche added 23 points and Shaun Livingston played well in his matchup against Hornets all-star point guard Chris Paul, scoring 18 points on 8-for-10 shooting and adding eight assists.
Livingston made two free throws with 13.6 seconds remaining after the Hornets made a frenzied comeback and had whittled Washington's 12-point fourth quarter lead to just one point. But with an opportunity to tie the game, Hornets forward David West missed a potential game-tying three-pointer. Miller grabbed the rebound and Blatche pumped his fist and smiled.
"I said to myself, 'Thank you, man. This streak is finally over,' " Blatche said.
The Wizards (22-52) hadn't won since defeating the New Jersey Nets on Feb. 28. They wanted to avoid becoming just the second team in NBA history to lose at least 17 games in one month. The expansion Vancouver Grizzlies had the dishonor of going 0-17 in March 1996 as they set a single-season NBA record with 23 consecutive losses.
"I think the biggest thing was, we played hard. We played well," Saunders said. "We just haven't had anything to show for it. Even though we tried to give it away in the end, we were able to pull it out and win a game in March."
The Wizards had a miserable schedule last month, having to play 17 games in 29 days, with 11 on the road. They had to face several of the elite teams in the NBA, with games against the Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando, Atlanta, Denver, Utah, Portland and surging Milwaukee. And they also had the misfortune of playing five games in six nights after a February snowstorm caused the postponement of a game against the Hawks.
Injuries also have contributed to the misery, with the Wizards losing starting small forward Al Thornton to a strained right hip flexor and key reserve Randy Foye to a left wrist injury. Alonzo Gee, a player who lost all 11 games he played on two 10-day contracts, bolted for San Antonio after emerging as a surprising starter.
The Wizards were coming off a heartbreaking loss the night before in Houston, where they blew a five-point lead with less than five minutes remaining. But they were inspired from the start on Wednesday, with Blatche scoring 12 points in the first quarter and carrying them to a an early 21-13 lead. JaVale McGee (11 points, six rebounds) came off the bench and provided another boost in the second period, as he personally outscored the Hornets 7-2 and gave his team a 37-27 lead when he had a putback dunk. Miller scored 10 points in the third period, helping the team build a 13-point lead.
"I was a little frustrated last night. I missed a lot of shots I should've made," said Miller, who missed 11 of 15 shots in Houston, including several layups. "I mean, I've done it now for a while. Tonight, I was a little more aggressive. Getting one win, period. It's big."
The Wizards were up 87-75 when Blatche made two free throws with 4 minutes 32 seconds left in the game. But the Hornets went on an 11-1 run and got within two points when rookie guard Marcus Thornton (15 points) hit another three-pointer with 3:10 remaining. Blatche helped stem the tide when he knocked down a jumper just inside the foul line and later found James Singleton open underneath the basket for a layup.
But the Hornets (35-41) wouldn't go down quietly, as they instituted a pressing defense that led to three consecutive turnovers and produced five points for New Orleans. James Posey stole a pass from Singleton and dunked to bring the Hornets within 92-90. Posey then stole Livingston's entry pass to Blatche. Blatche fouled Posey on the other end and Saunders turned to the bench and shouted to himself, "Unbelievable."
Posey made just one of two free throws with 14.6 seconds left. After Livingston put the Wizards ahead 94-91, West (18 points) stepped back to attempt a three-pointer and Nick Young immediately thought the worst.
"The way they was coming back, I was like, we must have some voodoo on us, some bad luck. It was turnover after turnover, layup after layup. We've seen so much, I wouldn't have been surprised if he would've made it," Young said. "They was saying we might not get a win in March, but we got that monkey off our back. I know everybody is happy around here."