- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2008

PHOENIX — Despite missing three players who have started this season, the Washington Wizards held their own against the Phoenix Suns last night at US Airways Center.

The only problem was the Suns had an answer for everything the Wizards threw at them and prevailed 108-107 to give Washington its seventh consecutive loss.

Twice the Wizards erased 10-point leads, and they even took the lead in the closing minutes of the third quarter. But the Suns opened the fourth quarter with a 10-4 run and remained just out of reach down the stretch to drop the Wizards to 24-26.

All five Washington starters scored in double digits, with Antawn Jamison and his 28 points and 10 rebounds leading the way. Brendan Haywood had a season-high 21 points to go with 10 rebounds, and Roger Mason Jr. added 18 points. DeShawn Stevenson — despite playing with a sore knee — scored 18, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer to make it a one-point loss. Andray Blatche recorded his sixth double-double of the season with 10 points and 11 rebounds, while rookie Nick Young added 10 points off the bench.

But the Suns also had six players in double digits and improved their Western Conference-best record to 36-15.

Amare Stoudemire, who finished with 31 points and 13 rebounds, was virtually unstoppable in the first quarter, going 6-for-6 from the field for 13 points. But the Wizards hung with the Suns in the opening period, and only trailed 27-21 heading into the second quarter.

In preparing for the high-scoring Suns, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan preached the importance of getting back on defense to limit Phoenix’s production, and Washington did that for much of the first quarter.

But the Suns took to the run in the second quarter, going on a 9-4 push that gave them a 36-28 lead and forced a Wizards timeout with 8:50 left in the half.

Haywood gave his team a boost just before the break, scoring five straight points in the final 1:01 to keep Washington within 51-46.

The Suns tried for one more fast-break play as Steve Nash darted up the court and dished to Stoudemire for a layup. But the shot rimmed out at the horn, and Jordan pumped his fist victoriously and grinned as his hobbled team headed to the locker room still within striking distance of the NBA’s most prolific team.

Eventually, Mason gave Washington an 81-80 lead with back-to-back 3-pointers late in the third quarter.

But the Suns stayed true to form, getting another timely basket — this time a 3-pointer from Raja Bell with 43.8 seconds on the clock — to regain the lead. The Suns headed into the fourth quarter up 85-81, a lead they never relinquished.

Notes — Gilbert Arenas entered the locker room 90 minutes before the game dripping in sweat after putting himself through a tough workout as he continues to rehab his surgically repaired left knee. Arenas is still eyeing March 1 as a loose return date, and plans to begin practicing with his teammates when they return from the All-Star break next week. …

Former Maryland guard D.J. Strawberry has received more playing time since the trade last week that sent fellow guard Marcus Banks to the Heat with Shawn Marion for Shaquille O’Neal. On Wednesday, in his first game since the trade, Strawberry scored nine points in 11 minutes. He scored four points in eight minutes the next game. Last night, he scored five points in eight minutes.

“With Marcus being another guard, I’m starting to see more minutes here and there, so I’m just trying to make the most of the opportunities I get,” Strawberry said.

Wizards report

Last night at US Airways Center in Phoenix

SEEN AND HEARD

The Big Fella was in the house but not in uniform. New Suns acquisition Shaquille O’Neal flew from Miami to Phoenix yesterday, arrived here and went through a rigorous workout in the weight room. He then sauntered down the hall dripping in sweat and went into a closed practice court. He then came out and went back into the weight room but didn’t speak to the media.

Once the game started, he was decked out in a tan suit and sitting in the middle of the Suns’ bench. When a timeout was called three minutes into the game, Shaq rose from his seat nodding his head like an approving father and high-fived his teammates as they came off the court.

INJURY UPDATE

With Caron Butler and Antonio Daniels out, Andray Blatche started for a third straight game, and Roger Mason Jr. made just his sixth start of the season.

Shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson has a sore knee and will see his minutes decreased. That means Wizards coach Eddie Jordan will call more on rookies Nick Young, Dominic McGuire and Oleksiy Pecherov.

“We’ll sort of have to name this the ‘Rookie Tour’ if those guys remain hurt — Antonio and Caron,” Jordan said. “So there’s the Hannah Montana Tour, and there’s the Rookie Tour. Hopefully we’ll be a little tougher than the Hannah Montana Tour.”

Mike Jones

Today’s game

WASHINGTON WIZARDS AT GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

When: 10:30 p.m.

Where: Oracle Arena, Oakland, Calif.

TV/radio: CSN, AM-980

Probable starters: WizardsF Antawn Jamison, F Andray Blatche, C Brendan Haywood, G Roger Mason, G DeShawn Stevenson. WarriorsF Stephen Jackson, F Al Harrington, C Andris Biedrins, G Baron Davis, G Monta Ellis.

Injuries: Wizards— F Caron Butler (hip), G Antonio Daniels (ankle), G Gilbert Arenas (knee), C Etan Thomas (heart surgery).WarriorsF Austin Croshere (back), G Troy Hudson (hip).

Outlook: Washington will face the second-highest scoring team in the league in Golden State (109.5 ppg), and it’s unclear whether the Wizards will have to take on the Warriors without Caron Butler and Antonio Daniels. Neither played in Phoenix last night, and both are listed as game-time decisions…. Although the Warriors are a prolific team with a 30-20 record, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said his team is banking on the fact that any team can fall at any time, pointing out that Chicago, which has a worse record than Washington, managed a 114-108 victory over Golden State last week.

Mike Jones

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