By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 26, 2011; 12:04 AM
In the early stages of one of the more taxing portions of their schedule, the Washington Wizards came home for a spell on Tuesday night, playing their final game in the nation's capital until next month. Washington has been one of the Eastern Conference's more competent teams at home, where its outcomes have been far more rewarding than on the road.
Problem was, the Wizards also were playing their fourth game in five nights and second in a row. Thus fatigue from those demands coupled with balanced scoring by the Denver Nuggets eventually became too much to surmount in a 120-109 loss before 16,121 at Verizon Center.
"Most definitely a lot of guys are tired, legs a little heavy," said Wizards forward Rashard Lewis, clearly among the exhausted with eight points in 34-plus minutes. "This is more mental than anything, to get yourself ready. We were dragging a little bit, but I can say that we kept fighting, and I think we got ourselves back into the game."
The Wizards did so late in the fourth quarter, when they scrambled within 10 points, 107-97, and were looking to gain more ground in their quest for a second consecutive home win against a capable opponent. Washington defenders, however, were a split second late to spots beyond the three-point line, where Al Harrington made consecutive baskets for a 113-97 buffer, compelling Coach Flip Saunders to call timeout with 4 minutes 25 seconds to play.
The Wizards briefly cut it to 114-105 on a 19-foot jumper by Yi Jianlian with 2:11 left, but the prospect for an improbable comeback quickly faded when Arron Afflalo got deep into the lane for an easy basket before Melvin Ely converted 1 of 2 free throws.
Nick Young finished with a game-high 26 points and five rebounds for the Wizards (13-31), and rookie point guard John Wall added a game-high 13 assists to go along with 10 points and 5 rebounds. Andray Blatche chipped in 25 points on 8-for-14 shooting with nine rebounds and four assists one night after Saunders chided his starting power forward for a poor performance in a 115-106 loss to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
The Nuggets (26-18), meantime, had six players reach double figures. After a lethargic beginning, Carmelo Anthony wound up with a team-high 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists, and Nene and Harrington each added 21. Harrington made 6 of 8 three-pointers coming off the bench and in one instance of showmanship blew on his hand while waving it in front of his face as if trying to extinguish a flame.
"Late when we were trying to make a run, he got hot, and when he got hot, he didn't miss," Wall said of Harrington. "Every time we chipped away, he built the lead right back up."
Harrington's accuracy from beyond the arc contributed to Denver going 12 for 23 from that distance. The Wizards shot just 2 for 13 from three-point range, although they shot 51 percent overall in their only home game during this current stretch comprising three sets of back-to-back games.
Washington has lost four of six following its only two-game winning streak this season. Both those victories came at home, and one was against Utah, 108-101, which is in the mix for one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference. Three nights ago, the Wizards scored their signature win of the season, 85-83, over Eastern Conference champion Boston at Verizon Center.
Falling short against Denver became all the more disheartening in light of Washington's upcoming schedule that includes four consecutive road games. That's the second-longest trip this season for the Wizards, who are a league-worst 0-21 away from home and eight games from matching the NBA record for most consecutive road losses to start a season.
Washington, however, began with little urgency, falling behind by 24-10 late in the first quarter. The Wizards got within four points three times in the second quarter, but as soon as they threatened to move closer than that, Denver had a retort.
The Nuggets expanded their advantage to 15 late in the first half with a 6-0 run that prompted Saunders to call timeout twice, but Denver wasn't done. It went ahead 65-48 by making 4 of 5 foul shots before Young scored six in a row for the Wizards that cut it to 66-54. The half ended with rookie Trevor Booker's desperation jumper at the buzzer initially ruled a three-pointer but reviewed and overturned to a standard field goal, leaving Washington at a 68-56 deficit.
"They got things going so early," Saunders said. "Chauncey [Billups] basically really went at John early and set the tempo of the game. They built so much confidence that they carried that through for the whole game. Even when we got the thing close, it was like they were throwing in threes."