PHILADELPHIA | If ever it seemed the struggling Washington Wizards had a chance to take advantage of an opponent, Saturday night against the Philadelphia 76ers seemed to be that time.
Although the news had broken late Saturday morning, Sixers management waited until less than three hours before game time to announce the firing of coach Maurice Cheeks, replacing him with assistant general manager Tony DiLeo on an interim basis after the team's 9-14 start.
But rather than pounce on an opponent in disarray, the Wizards - who were in the same position roughly three weeks ago - fell 101-89 at Wachovia Center to drop to 4-17.
Before the game, Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott said his team would have to guard against an emotional eruption from the 76ers, who likely would want to prove they weren't bad enough to warrant Cheeks' firing. To do that, Tapscott said, the Wizards needed only to focus on their own play and on doing the little things right. He repeated his theory that paying attention to details would accumulate into a positive outcome and that neglecting the little things would have a snowball effect.
Sure enough, the Wizards were found lacking in key areas, and that allowed Philadelphia to pile it on.
"This was a game we could've easily gone out there and won this game," DeShawn Stevenson said. "It seemed like the whole night we couldn't get into the offense like we wanted. ... We started off the first five minutes of the game real terrible. We've got to find it and find it quick or we're going to look up and be in a real tough situation."
Stevenson, who for much of the season has been mired in a shooting slump, broke from it at least momentarily to score 16 points, all in the second half. And newly acquired point guard Mike James was one of the other bright spots, playing with aggression every time he got into the game and leading all Washington reserves with 16 points. Meanwhile, All-Star forwards Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison combined for 32 points on 13-for-35 shooting, with Butler scoring 15 points and Jamison 17. Fellow starter Juan Dixon added 10.
But a 45-37 rebounding discrepancy, 15 turnovers that led to 24 76ers points, 41 percent shooting from the field and Philadelphia's .304 clip from 3-point range did the Wizards in.
Elton Brand scored 27 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead Philadelphia. Louis Williams and Thaddeus Young added 15 and 14 off the bench. Andre Iguodala scored 14 and Willie Green chipped in 13. Center Samuel Dalembert scored only five points but had 17 rebounds.
The Wizards trudged onto the court with defeat seemingly written all over them from the start of the game - slack-jawed, heavy footsteps and sluggish body language. They watched the Sixers jump out to a 12-3 start after the first six minutes and faced a 21-10 deficit before finally mustering some life and closing out the first quarter with a 10-5 run to pull within 25-20.
And it wasn't that the 76ers were playing particularly well early on. They just managed to a scramble for a loose ball here, a second-chance basket here. It translated into a lead they never relinquished.
"We need to stop falling behind," Tapscott said. "That's been one of our problems. Dig ourselves into a hole and can't get out. Little execution things, loose balls - all the things that make up a basketball game along the way You can't wait until the fourth quarter to get serious about playing the game."
Philadelphia shrugged off Washington's late first-quarter push and regained a double-digit lead (51-40) by halftime. And after a 16-6 run in the first 5 1/2 minutes of the third quarter, Philadelphia's lead swelled to 66-48. From there, the Wizards managed to cut the lead to less than 15 points only twice and allowed the 76ers to become the 10th opponent this season (Orlando and New York did it twice) to score at least 100 points in a game.
"It's difficult to explain exactly what occurred tonight," Jamison said. "We just couldn't go there. Mistakes. You can't take anything away from them because they executed, they outrebounded us, got good shots when they needed to - and we just couldn't get our rhythm."
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