Wizards 95, Spurs 91
On Tim Duncan Day at Lawrence Joel Coliseum, the site of the NBA all-star's college heroics, the Washington Wizards got a chance to rub elbows with the team they aspire to be.
In winning three of the last seven NBA championships, Duncan's San Antonio Spurs have proven what a combination of great defense, unselfish offense, strong leadership and excellent coaching can do.
"They are the model," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "They remind me of the old Celtics."
Thursday's 95-91 Washington victory, which was sparked by a late run by the team's reserves and sealed with a pair of free throws from Billy Thomas, the new-look Wizards have some intriguing ingredients but remain a work in progress.
With guard Gilbert Arenas and forward Jared Jeffries sitting out with groin soreness -- both could sit out again Saturday night at Memphis -- Jordan altered his lineup.
Chucky Atkins started at point guard and Caron Butler, who missed Monday's preseason opener, made his Wizards debut at forward. Butler scored 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting, grabbed five rebounds and had three assists in 23 minutes.
The most impressive aspect of the night was the performance of third-year guard Jarvis Hayes, who took over late in the first half and showed that he may be ready to step into the shooting guard spot vacated by Larry Hughes.
During a four-minute stretch late in the second quarter, Hayes buried a three-pointer, made a pair of pull-up jump shots and blew past Spurs guard Manu Ginobili before making a spectacular, one-handed runner off the glass.
Hayes, who missed the second half of last season and the team's playoff run with a fractured right kneecap, scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half and hit 8 of 13 shots overall. He appears to be getting excellent elevation on his jump shot and has been hustling to get around screens to close out on defense.
"The leg feels a lot better than it did six months ago," Hayes said. "I came into the preseason with a different mind-set. I'm not looking at this like it's a normal preseason. I know I'm not going to play a lot of minutes so I want to go out there and make the most of the minutes I get."
Hayes said the true test of the knee's strength will come Friday morning, after the flight from North Carolina to Memphis. Hayes often sleeps with his knee packed in ice and wakes up knowing that he's going to feel soreness.
"It's a little sore after practices and games but that's just a part of the healing process," Hayes said. "The good thing is that I've been able to recover quickly and get back on the floor. I really have to credit our trainers for helping me get back."
San Antonio, which played without Michael Finley, Nick Van Exel, Nazr Mohommed and Robert Horry, was led by guard Beno Udrih, who scored 20 points. Duncan played 23 minutes and finished with four points and 13 rebounds before leaving at the end of the third quarter.
The play of the night was turned in by Wizards forward Awvee Storey, who faces an uphill battle to make the team's 15-man regular season roster. On a fourth-quarter fast break, Storey took a behind-the-back bounce pass from Hiram Fuller and threw down a one-handed dunk over Spurs forward Jawad Williams.
The dunk drew a gasp from the crowd and led the Wizards' veterans to get up off the bench for an impromptu celebration. Storey, a free agent who was signed just days before training camp, built on Monday's strong performance, scoring 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting and grabbing four rebounds in 30 minutes.
"He's showing that he can play," guard Antonio Daniels said.
Wizards Notes: Duncan, who led Wake Forest to a pair of ACC titles before graduating in 1997, was honored in a pregame ceremony. One of the streets running past the arena was re-named Tim Duncan Drive and Duncan was presented with a key to the city. . . .
Despite playing at rival North Carolina, Wizards Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood were greeted primarily by cheers during pregame introductions. "It was a mix of cheers and boos but I know I got more cheers than Larry [Hughes] did Monday night," Jamison joked. . . .
North Carolina Coach Roy Williams attended the game. Williams coached Wizards guard Billy Thomas at the University of Kansas.