Nuggets 108, Wizards 105
The Washington Wizards hoped a game at MCI Center would provide the kind of boost they needed after suffering three tough road losses last week.
And if the simple act of pulling on the home whites and playing in front of 15,980 mostly friendly fans were enough, Washington might have snapped its losing skid last night against the Denver Nuggets.
Instead, the Wizards were plagued by many of the problems that dogged them in losses at Cleveland, Minnesota and New Jersey: turnovers, a failure to get rebounds in key situations and defensive breakdowns in the fourth quarter.
When Marcus Camby came from behind Gilbert Arenas to swat away Arenas's attempt at a game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer, he preserved Denver's 108-105 victory and dropped the Wizards to 5-5.
The Wizards will head back on the road for a game tonight at Orlando and then, after a day off, they will play back-to-back games at Detroit and Charlotte. Washington's longest losing streak last season was five games.
"We're being tested a lot right now," said forward Caron Butler, who scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds. "Rotation-wise, we're trying to find out who is going to be out there, what works the best during the course of a game. I guess it's going to take time. I thought it was going pretty good for us but I don't know."
Arenas led the Wizards with 36 points and 10 rebounds and Antawn Jamison added 26 points and 12 rebounds. Antonio Daniels suffered through a nightmarish 0-for-10 shooting night while Brendan Haywood and Jared Jeffries shot a combined 2-for-9 and grabbed five rebounds.
Denver's Carmelo Anthony scored 28 points -- 18 on free throws -- and Camby posted 24 points, 14 rebounds and 6 blocks. The Nuggets shot 45.7 percent from the field and held a 44-40 advantage in rebounds.
The Nuggets also came up with the big plays they needed down the stretch, including an open three-pointer by longtime Wizards tormentor Earl Boykins, a shot made possible by Washington's failure to rotate on defense, and a fast-break drive and layup by Andre Miller on which the Wizards failed to do one of the most basic things in the game: stop the ball in transition.
The breakdowns cannot be chalked up to complacency by Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan, who shook up his playing rotation for reasons other than injury for the first time this season.
Guard Jarvis Hayes was inserted into the starting lineup in place of Daniels, Michael Ruffin was one of the first players off the bench and seldom-used forward Awvee Storey was on the court at the start of the second quarter with an odd lineup that included Daniels, Ruffin, Butler and Etan Thomas.
Guard Chucky Atkins, who struggled with his shooting during the first seven games and then barely made it off the bench at Minnesota and New Jersey, did not play.
The changes could not prevent a slow start. The Wizards missed 10 of their first 14 shots and Denver responded to many of the misses by grabbing the rebound and quickly pushing the ball up the floor.
Anthony made 18 of 22 free throws, and was especially determined late in the game when he drove hard to basket, drew a foul on Thomas and swished a pair of free throws, giving Denver a 101-99 lead with 2 minutes 11 seconds remaining.
The 5-foot-5 Boykins, who managed to outrebound Jeffries, Haywood, Arenas, Hayes and Ruffin, then made a three-pointer. After Jamison banked in a jump shot, Miller put Denver up 106-103 with a pretty reverse layup. Camby made a pair of free throws, but then was called for goaltending on an Arenas layup attempt, cutting Denver's lead to 108-105.
On the other end, Arenas stripped Anthony in the lane and had the presence of mind to signal for a timeout before hitting the floor. On the final possession of the game, Arenas shook free of Camby and appeared to get a clean shot off, but Camby recovered and deflected the ball with his right hand.
Arenas and Jordan immediately protested to referee Joey Crawford, but once Crawford insisted that the block was clean, player and coach -- their heads hanging -- trudged to the locker room.
"The game was over as soon as the buzzer sounded," said Arenas. "We have another game [tonight] and it's time to move on. We can learn from this game, but we can't think about it because we have another game [tonight]. That's how the league works. You have to move on."