By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 16, 2011; 12:23 AM
No matter how poorly they have been on the road this season, the Washington Wizards have usually found a way to block it out and perform well once they are surrounded by the comforts of Verizon Center.
At home against fellow cellar dwellers, the Wizards can blow leads with the knowledge that they will get another. The composure they lack on the road suddenly arrives, as they somehow know where to get the ball and they make shots or free throws. They have recorded just one sellout, but the mostly minimal support they get in the arena has been enough to fuel their wins.
The Wizards once again took advantage of a mediocre opponent in a familiar environment on Saturday night to defeat the Toronto Raptors, 98-95, before an announced crowd of 14,652. Nick Young scored a game-high 29 points, including 18 in the third period, as the Wizards improved to 11-8 at home.
"Very typical home game for us," said Andray Blatche after scoring 17 points with 13 rebounds in a game that still managed to provide a few surprises.
First, Young and Blatche decided to play, despite both nursing nagging injuries to their left knee and right shoulder, respectively. Second, Yi Jianlian came off the bench to score 10 points, providing the highlight of the night when he stole the ball from Raptors reserve guard Sundiata Gaines and dribbled the length of the court for a two-handed dunk. By his own estimate, it was "probably the first time" the 7-foot big man from China had ever gone the distance for a slam.
"I got the ball and I didn't see anybody in front of me. I went full speed, go to basket, finished strong," Yi said after going 5 for 5 from the floor. "Oh, it feel great."
And finally, Young proved that he could overcome a poor shooting start to carry the Wizards to the finish. The last time Young was at Verizon Center, he scored a career-high 43 points, laid his jersey down at center court and took a bow before leaving the floor. But Young struggled mightily at the start of Saturday's game, missing his first six shots and seven of eight overall.
After Wizards assistant Sam Cassell encouraged Young to take some easier shots, he drove inside to hit two short runners in the lane before the end of the half and would make eight straight shots. He scored the Wizards' first 13 points of the third period, giving them a 60-56 lead when he made a three-pointer and nodded his head as the crowd approved.
"I don't want to say my knee was bothering me, I was just missing. I came out pumped up," said Young, who has scored 18 points in the third quarter of each of his past two home games. "I just stayed confident. I found different ways to get myself going, diving on the floor here, making a good play here, a good pass there, kind of got myself going and once I seen the ball go in the hole, it was really over."
Blatche missed the previous game, a loss in Minnesota, with a sprained right shoulder suffered in Tuesday's win over Sacramento. But before the game, Blatche said he had no problem rotating his arm, and he was especially active on one possession in the second period, when he stole the ball from Amir Johnson and raced down the floor. He missed the layup, but grabbed the rebound and kicked out the pass to Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich missed the three-pointer, but Blatche tipped in the miss. He grimaced briefly as he ran back on defense, but hit a baseline jumper on the next possession.
"A sharp pain would come here or there, but like I said, I had to fight through it and get a win. Shoulder is a little bruised, but it's nothing," said Blatche, who hit a critical fadeaway jumper with 2 minutes 16 seconds remaining to give the Wizards a 92-86 lead. "When we lost to Minnesota, I said, if I was in the fourth quarter, I would help us and that's what I tried to do was step up, get us over the hump for that win."
The Wizards (11-27) have won three straight games at home for the second time this season.
The last streak started with a 15-point win on Nov. 16 over Toronto, which had been the best performance of the season at that point. The Wizards were trounced, 127-108, when the teams met again two weeks later in Toronto.
Andrea Bargnani led the Raptors (13-27) on Saturday with 25 points and point guard Jose Calderon nearly had a triple-double 21 points, 15 assists and 9 rebounds.
Rashard Lewis made three three-pointers and finished with 13 points for the Wizards. JaVale McGee had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds, but added six blocked shots - one more than the Raptors. Al Thornton scored nine points and John Wall had nine assists, but scored just eight points as he missed 10 of his 14 field goal attempts.
"Right now, it's kind of tough," said Wall, who can add a sore left thumb to his list of ailments that already includes some discomfort in his left knee. "I don't want to blame it all on a knee injury, that's still sore, or a hand injury, I never want to complain about nothing. If I'm playing, I'm out there playing."
The Wizards are 0-19 on the road this season, but are one of just two teams in the NBA at least 10 games below .500 overall with a winning record at home. Detroit is the other (14-26 overall, 10-9 at home).
"We always take care of home and that's something we're going to continue to do," Blatche said. "I don't know what it is, when we're home, we take our time and we execute. We made that one of our biggest goals to do and we feel that we're getting better in that area."