Just when the Washington Wizards seemed poised to plummet even further after a tumultuous three-game losing streak in which nerves were tested and their focus seemed blurred, they put together their most dominant performance of the season last night against the Toronto Raptors.
Washington jumped to a first-quarter lead and wound up pasting Toronto, 117-89, to record its largest margin of victory this season before 13,610 at MCI Center. Washington, which improved to 12-23, had not won by more than 12 points before beating the Raptors.
The Wizards have defeated the Raptors twice at home. Washington beat Toronto, 92-81, early in the season to snap a seven-game losing streak. The Raptors lost for the third time in four games to fall to 18-16.
"I thought our defense tonight was very good," Wizards Coach Gar Heard said. "We made them shoot a lot of jump shots tonight. Our game plan was to make them shoot a lot of jump shots and to keep them out of the highlight film."
Washington kept Toronto forward Vince Carter from dunking the ball--no small feat, as Carter usually provides at least one dunk nightly for the highlight reels. He scored 19 points to lead the Raptors, who shot 38.6 percent.
It was Wizards center Jahidi White and backup forward Aaron Williams, instead of Carter or teammate Tracy McGrady (16 points), who threw down the crowd-pleasers.
Williams slammed a one-handed baseline dunk over John Thomas in the third quarter to extend Washington's lead to 75-56. White topped that with a follow-up jam off a missed jump shot by Richard Hamilton in the fourth quarter to put the Wizards up 97-72.
Williams, who had a nightmare game in the Wizards' double-overtime loss to Milwaukee Saturday night, scored a season-high 17 points and grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds. It was Williams who allowed Bucks center Scott Williams to catch an inbounds pass and dunk in the game-winner.
Wizards players said he took the Milwaukee loss extremely hard and appealed for their forgiveness in the locker room afterward.
"I felt like I let the guys down," Williams said. "I just came out and tried to play hard tonight."
His effort followed a strong first quarter by starting power forward Michael Smith, who scored six points and grabbed four rebounds in the period to ignite his teammates. Washington held the Raptors to 21.7 percent shooting in building a 20-10 lead heading into the second quarter.
The Wizards never trailed and built a 32-point lead--their largest advantage of the season.
"We came out and played great defense and it motivated us to play offense," said White, who scored 13 points. "Before you knew it, we had a great lead."
Seven Wizards players scored in double figures. Mitch Richmond, who was nursing bruised ribs, was the only starter not to score in double figures. He had seven points.
Because of the relatively easy victory, no starter played more than 30 minutes. Forward Juwan Howard (10 points) and White were the only starters to play in the fourth quarter. All 12 Wizards players scored.
"This was a good win for everybody--the bench, starters, everybody," said Rod Strickland, who led the starters with 15 points and had a game-high seven assists.
The only time Toronto threatened was in the third quarter. After the Wizards posted a 69-41 lead on White's layup, the Raptors went on a 13-2 run to pull to 71-54. Williams responded by scoring eight of the Wizards' final 14 points in the period to give Washington an 85-62 lead going into the fourth.
"It's nice when they make a 13-2 run when you're up 25 rather than when they make a 13-2 run and you're down 15," Heard said. "We had a cushion to work with and our guys didn't panic and we stayed with what we were doing the whole game."
Washington was able to capitalize on the Raptors' lack of an outside scoring threat, forcing Toronto to try to score inside. Three-point marksmen Dell Curry (strained left heel) and Dee Brown, who is scheduled to have knee surgery today, did not play. The tandem combined to make nine three-pointers against Washington in the teams' two prior meetings this season, with Brown knocking down the game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer in Toronto's 95-93 victory Dec. 3.
The Wizards denied the Raptors most of the easy baskets, especially inside, while countering with a solid interior offense. Washington outscored Toronto in the lane by 62-34.
"They took us apart physically," Raptors Coach Butch Carter said. "I think they shot 70 or 80 percent inside. That's just inexcusable."