Trail Blazers 89
After going through a stretch in which they lost six of seven games and fell behind the Orlando Magic for third place in the Southeast Division standings, the Washington Wizards were in no position to worry about aesthetics heading into last night's game against the Portland Trail Blazers at MCI Center.
Whether it came via blowout or a last-second basket, the Wizards simply needed a win. In the process, they hoped to create some positive momentum as they head into a friendly part of the schedule that includes three straight home games. On a night when the basketball ranged from mediocre to downright hideous until the game's tense final minutes, the Wizards improved to 7-7 with a just-good-enough-to-get-it-done 96-89 victory in front of 15,275.
"Yeah, it was ugly, but we won," forward Caron Butler said. "We'll take it, especially after the trip we just had."
One of the game's prettiest plays turned out to be a difference-maker. With just under 1 minute 20 seconds remaining and the Wizards nursing an 89-87 lead, forward Antawn Jamison cut back-door, losing Portland forward Zach Randolph in the process, and caught a crisp bounce pass from forward Jared Jeffries before pushing in a layup.
Portland responded with an easy dunk by center Joel Przybilla. But on the next Washington possession, Gilbert Arenas drove left, used a crossover dribble to shake free of Sebastian Telfair and released a jump shot over the long arm of Darius Miles. The ball sliced through the net with 37 seconds remaining, giving Washington a four-point lead.
After a quick turnover by Randolph, who appeared to be thrown off when Jeffries rotated out to cut him off, Jeffries deflected a long Arenas pass to a streaking Jarvis Hayes, who put the game away with a fast-break layin. It was one of several key plays made by Jeffries, who scored only four points but grabbed eight rebounds and contributed five assists in 29 minutes.
"In the last three minutes or so, we emphasized the need to stay organized offensively," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "We ran a play where we got a back-door with Antawn, Gilbert got a tough shot off and made it and then Jared got a steal. When you shoot 37 percent, you need big plays and we got those tonight."
Arenas scored 18 of his game-high 28 points in the first half, with five assists and four steals while Jamison continued his recent tear, finishing with 20 points and 15 rebounds, giving him six consecutive double-doubles. Those performances were needed on a night when the Wizards gave up 28 first-quarter points, shot 37.5 percent and had 12 shots blocked, six of them by Przybilla, who gave the Wizards all kinds of problems en route to scoring 17 points and grabbing 15 rebounds.
Portland had five players score in double figures and shot a solid 45.8 percent but turned over the ball 21 times and went cold in the fourth quarter.
The Trail Blazers were led by the high-flying Miles, who scored 21 points -- 10 of them in the third quarter. Former Wizard Juan Dixon, who received a warm reception when he entered the game at the end of the first quarter, scored 10 points in 29 minutes for the Trail Blazers, who were completing a grueling seven-game road trip that included a 107-83 loss at Philadelphia Tuesday night.
Portland came with a much better effort last night, getting up and down the floor with energy early and then going deep into their bench late. After making only brief appearances in the first 13 games, former Wizard Steve Blake was on the floor at the start of the fourth quarter and center Ha Seung Jin played for the first time all season.
Still, to the credit of Coach Nate McMillan, the Blazers played hard, kept the game close and were in position to steal a win before the Wizards came up with key plays down the stretch.
"You've got to get them how you can get them," Jamison said. "We wanted to end the month with at least a .500 record. We knew this game was the toughest one of their road trip. They wanted it just as badly as we did. Everybody knows that playing at home is a lot easier when you get that win."
Wizards Note: Forward Michael Ruffin sat out with right knee tendinitis. He is listed as day-to-day.
Box Score, E5