Wizards Unable to Handle Paul

Hornets 109, Wizards 98

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 12, 2009; Page E07

Chris Paul long ago established himself as one of the most enjoyable players to watch in the NBA. The problem last night at Verizon Center was that the Wizards were too often caught watching the spectacular New Orleans Hornets guard as well.

Behind 30 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds from Paul, the Hornets pulled away for a 109-98 victory in front of an announced crowd of 15,255. Most of those fans showed up to cheer for the Wizards but nonetheless voiced their appreciation each time Paul juked, sliced or wiggled his way through and around the Washington defense.

Caron Butler (23 points, nine assists) and Antawn Jamison (25 points, 10 rebounds) paced the Wizards, who dropped to 15-50, but Paul was the story of the night despite the fact that the Wizards built their entire game plan around trying to contain him.

It was Paul's sixth triple-double of the season, two of them coming against the Wizards.

"He's an all-star and MVP candidate for those reasons," Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott said. "Chris Paul had an antidote for everything we did. We double-teamed him, we [tried to force Paul one way or another with a help defender], we switched on screens, we switched big-to-small and back. We threw just about everything we had at him and he had the answers."

A heavy dose of Paul, six three-pointers by forward Rasual Butler and a 45-36 rebounding edge helped the Hornets (40-23) complete a 2-0 season sweep of the Wizards.

The game's momentum turned for good with just less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter when Paul brought the ball up court and shook free of Mike James with a series of between-the-leg dribbles before working off a screen. As James scrambled to recover, Paul swished a step-back jumper from 15 feet.

The score capped a 15-2 Hornets run and put the Wizards in a 68-57 hole they would spend the rest of the game trying to dig out of.

At the end of the third quarter, Paul drove, floated in traffic and drew a foul on fellow Wake Forest product Darius Songaila while banking a shot in off the glass. Paul's momentum from the play carried him into the Wizards' bench where he finally regained his balance in front of Tapscott. Paul gave the frustrated coach a pat on the shoulder.

Paul then completed the three-point play by making a free throw that gave the Hornets a commanding 85-68 lead. When Hornets Coach Byron Scott pulled Paul at the start of the fourth quarter to give his superstar a rest, the Wizards took advantage with an 11-2 push that Caron Butler finished off with a driving layup.

Even after Paul returned following Caron Butler's score, the Wizards closed to 94-88 on a three-pointer by James. But following a miss by Hornets forward David West, the Wizards squandered a golden opportunity to draw even closer when James missed a short scoop shot and Andray Blatche missed a follow-up dunk attempt.

West grabbed the rebound after Blatche's miss and fed Paul. He raced the other way and passed out to a wide-open Rasual Butler, whose three-pointer gave the Hornets a 97-88 edge with 4 minutes 42 seconds to play.

Later, after the Wizards drew to 97-91 on a three-point play by Caron Butler, the Hornets answered with another Rasual Butler three-pointer, a fast break layup by Paul following a turnover by James, a pair of Paul free throws after he was fouled on a drive to the basket and a low post score by West.

Things looked promising early on for the Wizards, who led by 12 early in the first quarter and carried a 28-22 edge into the second.

The lead peaked at 40-28 following a jump hook by Jamison with 6:21 remaining in the second quarter but momentum swung suddenly right after Tapscott replaced Javaris Crittenton with Juan Dixon.

Whether or not because Dixon was guarding him, Paul went into full attack mode. He began by driving around Dixon before hitting a short runner from three feet. He then added an eight-foot jumper, then a 19-footer, fed Julian Wright for an easy dunk, capped a fast break with a layup and finally drew the Hornets into a 40-40 tie by making a 15-footer.

Dixon answered that last Paul score by making a 16-footer to put the Wizards back ahead and the Wizards entered halftime leading 46-45 after Songaila made a pair of free throws with 17.7 seconds left.

Still, the Paul-led run sent the message that the little fourth-year man out of Wake Forest could take the game over whenever he wanted.

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