Some progress but not enough

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In Tuesday night’s victory over the New Jersey Nets, the Washington Wizards finally avoided the kind of slow second-half start that has plagued them all season.

But when the Wizards returned to Verizon Center on Wednesday to face the Portland Trail Blazers, the third-quarter sluggishness came back with them.

And despite recovering sooner than normal, rallying three times in the third quarter and even taking a fourth-quarter lead, the Wizards didn’t have enough to put away the visiting Trail Blazers in a 98-92 loss.

With the loss, Washington (3-13) was denied a victory in the second game of a back-to-back set for the fourth time this season.

And the defeat came despite Washington outshooting Portland - 50.7 percent to 48.1 percent - and committing one fewer turnover than the victors.

“We were close, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades,” coach Ed Tapscott said. “We’ve got to close the deal, and we didn’t. Whenever you don’t, you tend to focus on the things you didn’t do. There were some good things out there tonight, but we do have to take a hard look at the little things that are causing us to have poor possessions at the ends of games.”

Antawn Jamison led Washington with 22 points and five assists but managed only four rebounds - 5.6 below his average. Caron Butler added 16 points and five rebounds, and Andray Blatche and Nick Young scored 11 apiece off the bench.

The Wizards trailed 45-43 at halftime and struggled early in the third quarter. But they tied the game at 56-56 midway through the third on a 19-foot jump shot from Jamison.

Washington opened the fourth with a 9-0 run, taking a 81-77 lead on a 3-pointer from Young with 8:32 to play. But Portland (14-6) rebounded to go up 83-81 and didn’t relinquish the lead despite several strong pushes by Washington.

After a quiet three quarters, Brandon Roy took over in the fourth. The 2007 rookie of the year scored 12 of his 22 points in the period, including eight in the last five minutes.

Three times in the final two minutes of play, the Wizards pulled within a basket, but each time the Trail Blazers answered. Jamison scored on a dump-off from Butler, cutting the lead to 92-90 with 52 seconds left. But Roy came down on the other end, paused at the top of the key and drove around DeShawn Stevenson and past Darius Songaila for a basket.

With 29 seconds left, Songaila hit a wide-open jumper off an assist from Butler, but Steve Blake responded with two foul shots. After a miss from Songaila 20 seconds later, the Wizards were forced to foul Blake, and the former Maryland player knocked down one of two free throws. Roy added another with 0.6 seconds left, sealing Portland’s sixth straight victory.

Portland had four other players in double digits. LaMarcus Aldridge finishing second in scoring with 16 points, and rookie center Greg Oden had 13 points and 10 rebounds. The Trail Blazers, after turning the ball over 11 times in the first half, committed only one turnover in the final two quarters.

The game marked the eighth time this season that the Wizards have lost after holding a lead in the fourth quarter.

“The frustrating thing is game after game it’s the same situation,” Jamison said. “And it’s just the little things: boxing out, missed assignments defensively or not knowing the plays offensively. You can use the excuse, which I hate to use, but we’ve got young guys who sometimes don’t know how to perform in certain situations, but again, that’s our job to make sure they help us out as best is possible. But we’ve just got to keep plugging away and keep fighting.”

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