After struggling through four straight double-digit losses, the Washington Wizards on Friday night finally appeared on the verge of breaking the streak by closing out a game.
They led visiting Philadelphia for much of the game and rallied to take a fourth-quarter lead, weather a 76ers charge and then force a tie with less than three minutes to play. All they needed to do was close the deal by getting the ball in the hands of All-Star forwards Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler.
But neither Jamison nor Butler could do much to lift the Wizards, and their teammates missed three key shots down the stretch in a 109-103 loss. Washington - which lost for the 11th time this season after leading or being tied in the fourth-quarter - fell to 4-20 on the season with its fifth straight defeat.
After letting the 76ers (12-14) erase a 93-89 lead midway through the fourth, the Wizards tied the score at 101-101 with 2:28 left to play on a pair of free throws from Jamison - who played despite suffering a strained left thumb two days earlier.
Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala put his team back up with two free throws 13 seconds later.
The Wizards came down the court, but with their foes keying on Jamison and Butler, center Andray Blatche missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Less than a minute later, guard DeShawn Stevenson, who is shooting 28.3 percent from the perimeter, missed a 3-pointer of his own. Then with 24 seconds left, Blatche missed a 19-footer.
"Obviously there are situations where we're loaded up on, and Andray had a good look and DeShawn had a good look and you live with that," Butler said. "I trust my teammates to make those shots, and if it's Sunday against Dallas, the same thing - hopefully they make that shot. But at the same time, we would like the ball in our hands. But it is what it is."
Interim coach Ed Tapscott didn't have a problem with Blatche and Stevenson taking the shots. He was, however, pained by watching them take the shots that they did.
"Their defense is designed to take away our best two players. Those guys over there get a paycheck, and obviously if you're playing us, you want to take away our two All-Stars," Tapscott said. "But, what we need to do at that time is take the appropriate shots. And one of the things I'm trying to desperately get across to our guys is, you don't have to take jump shots. Drive the ball."
The 76ers capitalized on the Wizards' inability to get the ball to their leading scorers and their lack of aggression. Philadelphia got two more foul shots from Iguodala to go up 105-101 with 16.5 seconds left.
"They loaded up on Antawn and Caron and made it tough," Stevenson said. "We should've gotten into a pick-and-roll situation. We need to get the ball in the hands of our scorers. They were playing the middle, so we had to take open shots. We just had a bad night."
After taking a 57-56 lead into halftime, the Wizards pulled off what has been a rather uncommon feat for them this season - starting the third quarter quickly. Paced by Jamison, who scored 11 of his team's first 18 points of the quarter, the Wizards raced to a 75-67 lead with just over seven minutes left in the third.
But then came a lull for Washington. The Wizards missed five shots and committed six personal fouls to aid the 76ers, who went on an 11-0 run in a 3 1/2-minute span to take a 78-75 lead.
James tied the score with a 3-pointer with 3:10 left in the third, and the teams traded leads until Washington managed to go up 86-84 heading into the fourth.