Atlanta Hawks (28-38) at
Washington Wizards (33-32)
Monday, March 17 - 7pm
With Caron Butler back in the lineup over the weekend, the Wizards put together back-to-back wins - one big and one much, much bigger.
I imagine you'd say Thursday's 101-99 home win against LeBron James and the Cavs was the by far the better of the two. CB-3 gutted out a ridiculous 41 minutes in his first game back and Washington proved that they can in fact handle Cleveland every now and again.
Well, you'd be wrong.
Yes, that was a great win for the Wiz on national television, and a tremendous confidence boost for everyone fretting another possible Wiz-Cavs first-round playoff matchup. But the Wizards' have beaten good teams several times this season - Boston (twice), Dallas (twice), New Orleans (twice).
What really impressed me was their ability to avoid throwing away that win against Cleveland by storming back to beat the Los Angeles Clippers two nights later and get back above .500 for the first time since early February.
The Clips are not in the same class as the Cavs, and they shouldn't be discussed in the same breath as the Wizards, but they're exactly the kind of team that has plagued Washington all season long. The Wiz love to make statements by winning big time games but then they fall apart against the middlings and the bottom-feeders. They tried to do it again on Saturday, too. But thankfully for the boys in white, their captain simply wouldn't let them.
Down four points with seven seconds left, Antawn Jamison nailed a three-pointer and after two Corey Maggette free throws pushed the margin back to three, he drew a foul on another attempt from beyond the arc and went to the free throw line, where he has missed several key free throws late in the fourth quarter.
This time AJ calmly sank all three, sending the game into overtime where he carried the Wizards on his back to 119-109 victory. The All-Star forward had 36 points and 11 boards in 45 minutes and Washington maintained its one-game lead over the surging Philadelphia 76ers. That determination is just one of the reasons Jamison is a co-captain on this squad, and one of the many reasons Ernie Grunfield would rather not give him up when his contract expires this summer.
- Washington was out-rebounded 51-36 by the Cavs but managed to pull out the win by outshooting Cleveland 48.6-to-42 percent from the field. The Wiz also had seven players in double-figures. (Stevenson, Daniels, Haywood, Butler, Jamison, Songaila and Young)
- The Wiz again had seven in double-figures against the Clips. Jamison led the way with 36 while Butler, Daniels, Stevenson, Songaila, Young and Mason all had at least 10.
- Steve Buckhantz got to pull out that infamous "DAGGER!" call late in the overtime period Saturday after Antonio Daniels nailed a trey from the corner with the shot-clock winding down to put the game on ice.
Tonight the Wizards host another potential playoff team when the Atlanta Hawks come to town. Washington has won two of the team's three meetings this season including a 102-98 overtime victory on January 11 in Hot-lanta, but the Hawks (28-38) have won three straight and are playing much better ball since the addition of Mike Bibby just before the trade deadline.
Again, this is the kind of the team the Wizards have to beat to maintain and have any hopes of improving their playoff positioning down the stretch. The Hawks have an All-Star in Joe Johnson and heaps (about six first-round picks-worth) of power forwards to throw at the Wizards. Fortunately, Washington has Tough Juice back and it looks as though he and Jamison won't let their team fall apart like it did at the end of last season.
-- The Tar Heel