If only the Wizards could play all of their remaining games against the Celtics, Mavericks and Hornets...That's right, three of the best teams in the league, but three teams that would hate to see Washington in a seven-game playoff series. Baffling as it might be, the Wizards have managed to play their best basketball against two of the best teams in the vaunted Western conference and the biggest beast in the East.
With their 101-84 rout of New Orleans last night at the Phone Booth, the Wiz are 6-1 combined against those three opponents with the lone loss coming in Boston in the second game of the season.
Just seven days after DeShawn Stevenson carried his team to a victory in New Orleans with a career-high 33 points and a game-winning three-pointer, Washington got solid contributions from the usual suspects and a strong effort from its bench to sweep the season series with the Hornets.
After struggling from the field over the last several games, Antawn Jamison returned to form with a 28-point, 9-rebound performance. Stevenson added 16 for the Wizards who started the fourth quarter on a 19-0 run that broke open a close game. With 11 points from Andray Blatche, eight from Oleksiy Pecherov and six each from Nick Young and Roger Mason, the much-maligned Washington bench out-scored the Hornets' subs 35-23 to help the cause.
The Wiz (29-30) performed admirably on the boards against rebounding-machine Tyson Chandler, matching the Hornets with 44 boards, and they continued their recent trend of valuing the basketball. Washington committed just seven turnovers while New Orleans coughed it up 15 times.
The win came less than 48 hours after a big victory in Chicago on Friday night. In that game, the Wizards overcame an 18-point deficit and the early ejection of Stevenson to take out the new-look Bulls, 97-91. Washington went on a 22-1 run to start the third quarter and out-scored Chicago 35-14 in the period, turning the 18-point deficit into a three-point advantage.
Both wins over the weekend were huge for a team trying to build confidence and return to their winning ways without injured stars Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas. For a team that had made a recent habit of giving up leads late in games, these two come-from-behind victories could go a long way toward helping Washington's playoff run.
"It took a little bit of time because it was like shellshock. But it comes to a point where you say, 'This is who we are and where we are at right now' and guys have to step up. Over the last few games, we've been able to do that and we're playing well." -- Roger Mason on Washington's response to injuries this season.
“The way our roster has gone up and down in numbers—seven guys to practice with and nine guys to practice with—it’s been like that all year. And this team has stuck together.” -- Eddie Jordan
"We embarrassed the organization and the city of Chicago tonight. I apologize for that." -- Bulls interim coach Jim Boylan on Friday's loss to the Wiz.
- Eddie Jordan has switched his starting lineup around the last two games, going with veteran Darius Songaila at power forward instead of Blatche. The third-year big man had been up and down in his 14 games as a starter, but has played since going back to his reserve role. Blatche had 11 points, 3 boards, 3 assists and 2 steals last night and finished with 17 points and 10 boards against the Bulls on Friday.
- Apparently Jordan is caught up in the whole Hannah Montana craze. This from Yahoo!'s game notes: "Wizards coach Jordan, speaking pregame about his TV preferences: 'I either watch basketball or the news—or Hannah Montana with my daughter.' … More comedy from Jordan postgame: Accompanied by his young son, the coach put a small stuffed dog on Antonio Daniels' left shoulder while the guard was doing interviews in the locker room. 'Class project,' Jordan said before taking a picture. Said Daniels: 'It’s so hard to concentrate with a dog on my left shoulder.'"
- Low Blows from Ernie Grunfield: Washington's general manager had his No. 22 jersey retired yesterday during Tennessee's game against Kentucky, and according to a Knoxville News-Sentinel story cited in the DC Sports Bog, he did more than score points as a member of the infamous "Ernie and Bernie Show."
- "Everybody was tired,'' (teammate Mike) Jackson said, "and Phillips was really tired and bent over. Ernie bent down next to Phillips and made sure the official wasn't looking and he sucker-punched him up under the chin.''
- And one more can't miss Steinberg Wiz bite from the Bog. Seriously, check this one out, for all that is sacred and holy in the names of Steve Buckhantz and Phil Chenier!
- 18 - Number of seasons since the Wiz last swept their season series with the Hornets franchise.
- 31-17 - Washington's advantage in free throw attempts against New Orleans.
- 8.2 - Average turnovers per game for the Wiz in their last five games in which they are 4-1.
- 12.7 - Average turnovers per game for the Wiz in their previous 11 games in which they were 1-10.
- 6-9 - The Wizards' record without Caron Butler after starting 2-8 minus their All-Star forward.
- 2.5 - Sixth-place Washington's game-lead over seventh-place Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. The Wiz are 3.5 games behind fifth-seed Toronto.
Washington hosts Dwight "Superman" Howard and the division-leading Orlando Magic (38-23) on Wednesday at the Phone Booth in another true test for this patch-work rotation. The Wiz lost to the Magic 82-94 in D.C. the night after their loss in Boston in their only other meeting so far this season. Hedo Turkoglu scored 25 for Orlando as the Wizards fell to 0-3 for the first time since 1992 and Gilbert Arenas walked off the floor after a 10-point night saying of his knee, “It’s stiff. It feels like a 5-pound weight is on it.”
Needless to say, the Wizards look a lot different than they did that Saturday night in November. They've never been able to challenge the Magic at the top of the Southeast division as Orlando currently holds an eight-game lead and has a strangle-hold on the third seed for the playoffs.
It's not a game Washington is expected to win, but then again, they weren't supposed to sweep the Hornets last week either. So maybe they can keep this little hot streak going a little longer.
All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!
-- The Tar Heel