Wizards Waste An Opportunity

Even Without Brand, Philadelphia Wins: 76ers 109, Wizards 103

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 20, 2008; Page E01

It doesn't take a basketball expert to reason that with the game on the line and the Washington Wizards in position to earn a rare victory, the basketball should wind up in the hands of either Caron Butler or Antawn Jamison on every possession.

And yet, with the Wizards locked in a tight game against the short-handed Philadelphia 76ers last night, key shots were taken and missed by Andray Blatche and DeShawn Stevenson in the final 1 minute 11 seconds.

As a result of those misses along with Philadelphia's clutch play, the Wizards (4-20) lost, 109-103, and continued a season-long trend of failing to come through in the fourth quarter.

If Wizards fans are wondering what in the world is going on with their team, they are not alone.

"I'm an observer on the court saying the same thing," said Butler, who finished with 20 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists but took only three fourth-quarter shots. "But you know, I execute the offense that's drawn up in the huddle. I'm going to listen to the coaching staff and whatever's drawn up, that's what we're going to run. It was a situation where we [Butler and Jamison] were loaded up on and Andray, he had a great game and he had a great look. DeShawn had the same thing and we have to live with that. I trust my teammates enough to make those shots."

A pair of Jamison free throws tied the game at 101 with 2:28 to play, but Blatche, who otherwise played solidly in his third start at center and finished with 13 points and eight rebounds, missed a long jumper after Andre Iguodala gave the 76ers a two-point lead with a pair of free throws.

After a stop, Stevenson missed an open three-pointer and after another, Blatche caught the ball on the wing and freed himself with a pump fake and dribble but then badly missed another jumper.

Philadelphia (12-14) then put away the game by making six straight free throws. The 76ers won despite playing without leading scorer Elton Brand, who is expected to miss a month with a shoulder injury.

The Wizards lost for the 11th time this season when they were either tied or held a fourth-quarter lead. Last night, they managed one field goal -- a Jamison floater with 13.9 seconds to play -- in the final 4:03.

As a result, the Wizards have lost five straight and continue to threaten the 1966-67 Baltimore Bullets for the worst start in franchise history. That team was 4-21 before earning its fifth victory en route to a 20-61 finish.

"Hard work is not the question, execution is," said interim coach Ed Tapscott, who is 3-10 since replacing Eddie Jordan on Nov. 24. "We had turnovers and we missed jump shots. Their defense is designed to take away our two best players. When a team is playing us, they want us to force other guys to take shots. What we have to do at that time is take the appropriate shots."

According to Tapscott, a drive to the basket would create such an appropriate shot, but the Wizards were mostly all about jumpers last night.

Jamison played with a wrap protecting his strained left thumb and finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists in 41 minutes. In the fourth quarter, however, Jamison attempted two shots.

Wizards Notes: Nick Young (12 points) would love an invitation to the slam-dunk contest that takes place on All-Star Weekend, but the second-year guard, who regularly wows teammates with spectacular dunks in practice, hasn't thrown down many in games this season.

Young did have a couple of nice dunks last night, however, including a nice one-hander over Marreese Speights in the second quarter. . . .

Guard Javaris Crittenton hasn't seen much action since arriving in a trade from Memphis on Dec. 10, but he did get into the game late in the third quarter for one minute.

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