Wizards 103, Grizzlies 91
-- For a team that has to learn how to win if it hopes to end a seven-year playoff drought, the Washington Wizards are in no position to concede games, regardless of the situation. The Wizards had enough ready-made excuses for their season opener against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday that they could have easily said their season actually begins Thursday night in Charlotte.
They had only twice as many available players (eight) as suspended players (four). They were missing their top two scorers from last season (Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes), their newly minted, $25 million starting center (Brendan Haywood) and a key reserve (Anthony Peeler). Plus, their starting shooting guard (Laron Profit) spent last season playing in China and hadn't seen an NBA court in three seasons.
Coach Eddie Jordan wasn't going to let his team's shortcomings be a crutch. He told his team before the game that they had enough pieces to compete against the Grizzlies, a team that won 50 games last season and was breaking in a new 18,119-seat arena, FedExForum.
"We had enough scoring. We have enough size and we had enough defensive-minded players," Jordan said.
But when the Wizards fell behind by 19 points early in the second quarter, doubt had to creep in. It was all gone in the closing seconds of the Wizards' surprising 103-91 win, as Jordan turned toward the scorer's table and yelled, "Pinch me, I'm dreaming."
The Wizards were depleted in numbers but not in heart, which was apparent in the fourth quarter, when newly acquired forward Antawn Jamison collapsed at center court and left the game, complaining of cramps in his left leg.
"I felt like somebody shot my leg off," Jamison said. He rode a stationary bike for several minutes, whispered to his coach that he was ready and returned to finish the game, hobbling toward a game-high 34 points, with eight rebounds in 45 minutes.
Juan Dixon, starting in place of Arenas, began to cramp in his right calf after he made his last jumper of the night, a 22-footer that gave the Wizards a 13-point fourth-quarter lead.
"A lot of people didn't give us a shot with Juan Dixon running the team," said Dixon, who came within two points of his career high with 28 points on 11-of-20 shooting. Dixon added five steals and four assists in 42 minutes. "We had each other's backs. Hopefully, we are going to build from this win."
Michael Ruffin, a 6-foot-8 center who started for Haywood, was an intimidator inside, grabbing 11 rebounds (seven offensive) and blocking a career-high seven shots despite a sore right shoulder. Jarvis Hayes had 20 points and nine rebounds in 40 minutes. Profit, making his first start since April 18, 2001, had 11 points and a team-high six assists.
"For us to accomplish what we did tonight really shows our determination and how we believe in ourselves," Jamison said. "It's a good sign for us in the future, but we've still got to realize that it's a long season. It's only the first game. During the course of the season, you have your ups and your downs and we started on a high."
Jamison showed why Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld was willing to part with Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laettner and the No. 5 pick to get him after his team fell behind 41-22 with 6 minutes 39 seconds to go in the second period. Jamison helped lead the Wizards on a 58-22 run over the next 19 minutes, matching the Grizzlies' total with 22 points himself. "We had Antawn get us going," said Dixon, who scored 15 points during the run, including nine in the third quarter, when the Grizzlies shot 5 of 23 from the field (21.7 percent). At the end of the third quarter, Dixon hit a jumper, then stole the ball from former Wizard Brian Cardinal and slowly dribbled to the right spot to shoot.
Dixon released, Jordan raised both fists and the ball splashed through the net with 3.9 seconds left. "When you score the ball, that juices you up," said Jordan, who will have Arenas, Hughes and Peeler back against the expansion Charlotte Bobcats. "One game will not make or break our season. We're waiting for the cavalry to arrive and you know who shows up for the fourth [game], the Hulk."
The Hulk is Jordan's nickname for Haywood.