By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 27, 2011; 1:03 AM
It was an emotional night for reunions, potential payback and new beginnings when the Washington Wizards hosted the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday at Verizon Center. But the game wasn't decided by any former Wizards turned Mavericks or former Mavericks turned Wizards, as Josh Howard, Brendan Haywood, and DeShawn Stevenson were in warmups and Caron Butler was in street clothes for the closing minutes of a contest that came down to poise and experience.
The Wizards are lacking in both areas, and no John Wall dancing celebration, or even a highlight-reel layup from Nick Young, could help them avoid a 105-99 loss to the Mavericks. Wall tried to lead the Wizards to an upset victory, as he carved up the defense for electrifying layups, added a crowd-pleasing blocked shot into the third row and finished with a game-high 24 points and five assists.
After darting past Jason Kidd for a layup in the fourth quarter, Wall wiggled his shoulders and danced his way to the foul line. But he was smarting after the game over missing two late free throws and committing a turnover in the final minute, which led to a bad foul by Rashard Lewis, which led to Dirk Nowitzki hitting the decisive free throws and the Wizards losing their fifth consecutive game.
"You can't do that against a good team," Wall said. "I made a careless mistake down the stretch. I knew if we all stepped up and played hard and played with confidence and competed, we'd be in just about every game. We keep working hard. We just got to learn how to finish."
The Wizards (15-43) were able to keep Nowitzki relatively ineffective, but they were unable to contain Tyson Chandler, who scored a season-high 23 points - with the help of seven dunks - added 13 rebounds, and broke a 97-all tie when he tipped in a missed jumper by Jason Terry with 77 seconds remaining. Terry added 26 points off the bench for Dallas (42-16), which won its fifth consecutive game and now has the league's second-best road record at 20-8.
Howard had to wait more than a year to face the team that he represented for the first 61/2 years of career. The Mavericks traded Howard to the Wizards in exchange for Butler, Haywood and Stevenson at the trade deadline last season. But he was unable to play when the Mavericks defeated the Wizards, 102-92, on Jan. 31 because he was still recovering from tendinitis in his surgically repaired left knee. As the teams came back for the rematch on Saturday, Howard was the only member of the quartet in the starting lineup: Butler remains out for at least the remainder of the regular season with a ruptured right patella tendon; Haywood gets limited minutes off the bench; and Stevenson has been pushed into a reserve role with the return of second-year guard Rodrigue Beaubois.
Howard was inspired at the start the game, making his first two shots - a driving layup and long jumper - but he missed his next four. And, after scoring nine points with six rebounds, Howard asked out of the game when he started to develop some soreness in his troublesome left knee.
Coach Flip Saunders elected to go with rookie Jordan Crawford, who arrived with veterans Mike Bibby and Maurice Evans in Wednesday's trade that shipped Kirk Hinrich to Atlanta. Crawford scored 10 points off the bench and helped the Wizards come back from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to tie the score at 97 with a pull-up jumper over Jason Kidd with 1 minute 36 seconds remaining.
"Best thing about my game is my confidence," said Crawford, who rarely played for the Hawks. Being in a late-game situation "wasn't a new experience. It was new in the NBA. I wanted to go to the hole. When I saw he was backing off of me, I didn't have any hesitation, I just shot it and it went in."
Crawford then forced Terry into a difficult shot, but McGee (six points, 11 rebounds) was slow to react and Chandler soared to tip in the shot. In two games against the Wizards, Chandler, who averages 10.4 points, has scored 41 points and grabbed 31 rebounds. "Tyson has killed JaVale both games," Saunders said.
After Chandler's tip, Wall drove and tried to kick it out to Rashard Lewis in the corner, but Kidd slipped in to intercept the pass. Lewis then fouled Nowitzki as he attempted a three-pointer and Nowitzki (21 points on 6-of-18 shooting) made two of three free throws to give the Mavericks a 101-97 lead.
The Wizards were coming off a hard-fought loss the night before in Miami, where Wall and Young combined to score 62 points, while the Mavericks had the night off in Washington. It was the second night in a row that they faced one of the league's best teams. They didn't help themselves against Dallas as they missed 10 of 16 free throws, including going 0 for 6 in the fourth quarter.
"We kept fighting the fight, and if we had made our free throws, it would've been a different outcome," said rookie Trevor Booker, who was 2 of 7 from the foul line. "That ended up killing us down the stretch."
Nick Young led the Wizards with 10 points in the first half, but was held scoreless until he made a ridiculous, 360-degree reverse layup with his left hand, going around Chandler and under the basket, to bring his team within 91-84. "I thought about doing just a 720 or something. You know, bringing something new out. It kind of worked for me. I think it was all luck," Young said.
The Wizards needed a little more luck - and composure - against the Mavericks.