- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2005

While everyone was celebrating the arrival of 2005, Juan Dixon still was trying to forget about his last shot of 2004 — a missed breakaway layup late in the first half of the Washington Wizards’ New Year’s Eve loss at Boston.

“I thought about it in the second half of the Boston game, and it was still on my mind in the first half [yesterday] because I didn’t play,” Dixon said. “But it happens. You hope it doesn’t happen again.”

It certainly didn’t happen yesterday in the Wizards’ 104-101 victory over the Atlanta Hawks before 14,114 at MCI Center. Dixon played a huge role in the win, scoring all of his 15 points in the second half after sitting the entire first half.

Although Washington’s Larry Hughes led all scorers with 26 points and knocked down six crucial free throws in the final two minutes, the Wizards’ lethargic starters clearly needed a boost from Dixon and the reserves. Hughes was just 7-for-24 from the floor against the Hawks.

“Juan was Superman for us,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “He’s had some struggles lately but he’s a professional. He stayed in it and made some big shots for us.”

Yesterday marked the first time in 14 games Dixon has scored in double digits. During that span Dixon, shot just 14-for-47 from the field.

“My confidence has taken some hits but I’m not shaken,” Dixon said. “I’m just glad we were able to get the win.”

With Dixon leading the way, the Wizards reserves played a crucial role in the second half after adding nothing in the first, during which they were 1-for-9 from the floor and scored just four points.

However, with the game tied 69-69 late in the third, the Wizards’ subs scored the team’s next 22 points to give Washington (16-13) a 90-81 lead on Dixon’s layup with 5:49 to play.

The Wizards got nice contributions from other reserves. Jarvis Hayes, who started the game 0-for-5 from the floor, was 2-for-3 in the fourth quarter and finished with a team-high five assists. Michael Ruffin grabbed seven rebounds and kept a number of balls alive to give the Wizards more possessions. And Dixon, who played just 14 minutes, also had a pair of assists.

Despite the return of stating point guard Gilbert Arenas (17 points) after the flu forced him out of the Boston game, the Wizards’ starters still struggled when they returned to the game, allowing the 5-24 Hawks to get back in it with a chance to win at the end.

Atlanta’s Antoine Walker answered a pair of Hughes’ free throws with a 3-pointer that pulled the Hawks to within 102-101 with 3.1 seconds to play.

Following a Washington timeout, the Hawks’ Tony Delk (team-high 19 points) fouled Washington’s Antawn Jamison (19 points, 12 rebounds) with 2.2 seconds remaining. After Jamison sank both free throws to push the lead to 104-101, former Wizard Tyronn Lue’s potential game-tying 3-pointer banged harmlessly off the backboard as time expired.

“They were big free throws, considering that Antoine Walker can hit daggers like that,” Jordan said of the Wizards’ 9-for-12 shooting from the line in the fourth quarter. “That’s why you have to keep your composure. Those are special situations where players have to step up and they did that.”

And yesterday, nobody stepped up bigger than Dixon.

“Sometimes he loses a little bit of confidence,” Jordan said. “He might not say it. But when you miss a breakaway layup like he did in Boston that can help you lose your confidence. He came back like a true pro on a night that if it didn’t come out a ‘W’ for the Wizards, it could have been very devastating for us.”

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