Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Twice As Nice

If Saturday's fourth quarter come-from-behind win over the Boston Celtics was an unexpected left hook to the side of the head, last night's 88-83 encore in Beantown was a full-force shot in the mouth. Pow! Right in the Kisser!
Following a gutty home victory over the new titans of the East, a let-down should have been in the cards. If the Wizards didn't give the game away, the Celtics surely wouldn't let them walk into the Garden and win two straight...not when they hadn't lost back-to-back games all season. But that's just what Washington did. They went on the road - where they've been notoriously poor over the past two seasons - and stuck to the game plan that got them their 85-78 victory on Saturday.
For the second straight game the Wiz held the Celtics (30-6) to under 42 percent shooting and well below their season average of 98.3 points per game. The C's shot just 25 percent (5-for-2
0) from long-range as Ray Allen struggled yet again. The He Got Game star hasn't had much against the Wiz as he went a combined 8-for-27 in the weekend double-header including just 4-for 15 from beyond the arc. Allen's fade-away three-point attempt with just seconds left that would have tied the game fell way short of the rim. The Wizards held Boston to one field goal in the final six minutes.
Caron Butler scored 11 of his team-high 21 in the over the final seven minutes - a stretch in which the Wizards (20-16) used a 25-6 run to come from 14 back for their third straight win. Antawn Jamison added 20 and 10 for his 24th double-double of the season and DeShawn Stevenson continued his shooting tear, tallying 16 points including four treys. Brendan Haywood also had a hard earned 14 in the paint.
The Wiz didn't shoot the ball well, falling below the 42 percent mark for the fourth straight game, but once again they were able to grind it out by holding their own on the boards (37-37) and getting to the line down the stretch. Butler's three free throws in the final minute - the first coming off a crafty off-balanced and-one runner - extended his streak of consecutive made free throws to 40.

The Numbers Game

102-102 -
Two game scoring totals from the respective Big Threes: Boston's Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce/Allen v. Butler/Jamison/Stevenson

4-0 -
Washington's record when they hold their opponents to fewer than 80 points. All four have come in the last 13 games.

4 - Washington's current overall position in the Eastern conference.

43 - Caron and Antawn's combined scoring average - making them the highest scoring forward tandem in the league.

17-11 - The Wizards' record sans Agent Zero

(Do it, Antawn!)

  • "Our eyes are on winning a championship. Hopefully we get Gilbert back by March and when he comes back we will be even more dangerous." - Caron Butler following the win.
  • Oleksiy Pecherov saw action for the second time in three games for the Wizards on Monday. He logged just under three minutes and went scoreless from the floor, missing two shots and pulling down one rebound. Pesh, who recently returned to practice after finally recovering from a right ankle injury, scored his first NBA bucket in Washington's 102-98 overtime win against in Atlanta on Friday.
  • Center Etan Thomas, who underwent open heart surgery to replace his aortic valve on Oct. 11, has been cleared to participate in non-contact drills. There is no timetable for his return and no reason to expect the Wizards to rush him back into full practices. Upon hearing the news, starting center Brendan Haywood made a beeline to the boxing gym to re-master his right jab.
Up Next
There's little time to celebrate for the Wiz, who head into Madison Square Garden tonight to take on the Knickerbockers. At 10-26, Isiah Thomas' squad is in complete disarray, just two games ahead of Miami in the race for worst record in the East. New York has lost eight of its last 10 but still managed to notch the upset of the week - yeah, the Wiz over the Celts twice was a stunner, but at least Washington has a winning record - when they hammered the Detroit Pistons 89-65 on Sunday. They're still atrocious and the way Washington has been playing defensively, this one shouldn't be close. With that said, tonight's match up is an easy trap game that the Wiz must avoid. They're riding high after two emotional upsets but need to keep things rolling against the conference bottom-feeders. In a scheduling quirk, Washington returns home to host the Knicks at Verizon Center on Friday.

Key Match Up
  • Antawn Jamison v. Zach Randolph - In a battle between two big-men who excel on offense but leave something to be desired on the other end of the floor, this could be a shootout. Expect both AJ, who is averaging 21 and 11, and the former Portland bad boy (16.8 and 10) to get their points, but the most intriguing aspect of this match up might be on the backboard. Jamison has been a monster on the glass all season for the Wiz, but at 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, Randolph can throw his weight around on the block. Both teams have struggled shooting the ball lately so there should be a lot of bricks for these guys to get after.
No Stars, No Problem
Like the Wizards, the Knicks are learning to adjust to life without their superstar. Point guard Stephon Marbury will miss tonight's game, and at least one more, with an ankle injury that may require surgery. However, like the Wiz, New York has fared better without Starbury thus far. Without the much-maligned two-shots-a-minute playmaker, the Knicks are 4-8. With Marbury in the lineup they're just 6-18.

There's no reason to get cute here. After knocking off the top dogs twice in three days, the Wizards are one of the hottest teams in the league. Good teams, unless you're the Pistons apparently, don't play around with terrible teams. This game is a perfect opportunity for Eddie Jordan's squad to prove they belong at the top of the conference by thrashing a team with less talent and no chemistry. If the Wiz can blow it open early, it might be a good night to rest the starters - especially Butler and Jamsion - who have been on the floor for 40-plus minutes multiple times in recent games. The Wiz make it four in a row, 96-87.

All photos AP/Getty

-- the Tar Heel

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