EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. | Many of the elements that served the Washington Wizards well during last year's playoff run without Gilbert Arenas have gone missing during the team's 2-12 start, but one of the most notable has been the contributions of shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson.
He couldn't make a layup or buy a 3-pointer - the shot that served him best last season. And in Saturday's loss to visiting Atlanta, when his team needed him most, he couldn't sink a pair of late free throws.
But Tuesday against the New Jersey Nets, Stevenson returned to form. He scored a season-high 21 points, including five 3-pointers, in the Wizards' 108-88 win - their first on the road this season.
"It felt good," said Stevenson, who shot 54 percent from the field Tuesday after entering the game shooting 30 percent overall and 27 percent from 3-point range. "I'm not used to going out there and not making shots. Just seeing the frustration on Caron [Butler]'s face and Antawn [Jamison]'s face, they need another guy to come out and help them."
What led to Stevenson's breakthrough is unclear. Sure, he changed his pregame routine and took 300 shots before tipoff in an attempt to rediscover his stroke, but he continued to struggle. Friends and family phoned him constantly to offer advice on how he could improve.
Finally a call came he knew he better listen to.
Stevenson's mother told him to start growing his beard again - returning to the shaggy look he sported last season as part of a bet with good friend Drew Gooden of the Chicago Bulls.
"Yes, I'm going to listen to mom," said Stevenson, who sported a few days' growth. "I'm going to keep the beard."
Either way, Stevenson's performance eased the load on Butler and Jamison, who scored 22 points apiece. Reserve guard Nick Young added 12 points, and center JaVale McGee and guard Dee Brown each scored eight.
The Wizards (3-12) shot 51.8 percent from the field, recorded a season-high 33 assists and grabbed 40 rebounds. The win ended to a two-game skid and improved the Wizards' record to 2-2 under interim coach Ed Tapscott.
"We moved the ball well, and we had a lot of people getting a lot of touches," Tapscott said. "When everyone touches the ball, they play better and everyone is happy. That was the key."
In addition to Stevenson's eruption, the victory also saw the Wizards at least temporarily end the sluggish third quarters that Tapscott suspected had cost them victories recently.
After going in at halftime up 51-50, the Wizards opened the second half with a 19-7 run that gave them a 70-57 lead with six minutes left in the third. Stevenson scored 10 points during the run. The Nets called a timeout, but the Wizards continued to roll. New Jersey burned another timeout after Brown hit consecutive 3-pointers for a 78-60 lead with 3:05 left in the third. Washington headed into the fourth quarter with an 86-62 lead.
The Nets were coming off of a four-game trip out west that saw them go 3-1. Point guard Devin Harris averaged 30 points and 6.8 assists on the road swing. He totaled a career-high 47 points and eight assists in a 117-109 win at Phoenix on Sunday.
But Harris scored just 18 points against the Wizards, and his backcourt mate Vince Carter contributed 16.
"It's a letdown," Harris said. "Pretty solid first half, but it was kind of hard to get out of that third quarter. We dug ourselves into a deep hole, and we didn't have enough energy to dig ourselves out."
The Wizards built a 17-10 lead in the first before New Jersey found its rhythm. Butler's 12 first-quarter points set the tone for the Wizards' 28-27 lead. Then in the second, Stevenson scored eight points to keep the Wizards rolling.
Following the game, the Wizards returned to the District, where they host the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday.