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Taking a painkiller

- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2008

The main thing the Washington Wizards have lacked with Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler still on the bench with knee and hip injuries, respectively, is a closer.

Without their top two scorers, the Wizards have had no one to step up in the closing minutes of games, and as a result, Washington fell a clutch play shy of victory in each of their last four games.

But a closer wasn't necessary last night as the Wizards got a strong collective effort and rolled past the Charlotte Bobcats 110-95 last night at Verizon Center.

All five Wizards starters scored in double digits and the bench provided much-needed boosts in the first and second halves. And DeShawn Stevenson provided the dagger for Wizards.

The shooting guard made three of his four 3-pointers in the last eight minutes of the game and gave Washington its most comfortable victory in nearly a month.

"It was a very confident approach from us," Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. "We just sort of kept the beat, kept our confidence, making plays that we were probably apprehensive on doing earlier in the week or in the last few games."

Forward Antawn Jamison scored 22 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had five assists, Stevenson had 20 points and center Brendan Haywood had 15 points, seven rebounds, a career-high five assists and three blocks.

Forward Andray Blatche finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, and point guard Antonio Daniels had 10 points and three assists.

After trading leads with the Bobcats for much of the game, the Wizards used a 14-2 run that spanned the third and fourth quarters to finally distance themselves from the visitors and take an 84-71 lead with 10:41 left. The Wizards' lead never dipped to below 10 points the rest of the way and Washington earned its second win in the last 12 games, and their first since returning from the All-Star break on Tuesday.

The Wizards played an eighth straight game without Butler, who is still recovering from a strained left hip flexor. And the rest of the Wizards remained banged up with Daniels nursing a sprained left wrist — suffered the night before in Cleveland — and bone spurs in his right ankle, and Stevenson remains hobbled with a sore knee.

But the Wizards overcame their limitations — thanks in part to persistence which displayed itself in the form of 28 second-chance points vs. the Bobcats' 13 and a Washington rebounding advantage of 46-36 — and improved to 26-28 on the season.

With 3:47 left, Stevenson hit his fourth 3-pointer of the game to give Washington a 101-87 lead, force a Charlotte timeout and whip the 15th sellout crowd of the season into a frenzy. The Wizards remained in control and for the first time in weeks walked off the court with smiles as the fans applauded them.

The Wizards shot 57.9 percent from the field in the first quarter but only led 28-27 after the first quarter.

It was the Wizards' most comfortable win since a 104-93 victory over Memphis on Jan. 25. In their two other wins since then, Washington won by four and two points, respectively.

The Wizards, who trailed 52-51 at halftime, and Bobcats traded leads three times during the first six minutes of the third quarter. Then came the game-deciding run, which began with a tip-in from backup forward Darius Songaila, which made it 70-67 with just more than four minutes left in the third and ended with consecutive 3-pointers by fellow reserves Oleksiy Pecherov and Roger Mason Jr., which gave Washington an 84-71 lead with 10:52 left in the fourth.

"It was just good after [Friday] night the way we lost, to come out and still be focused, to still be eager to play," said Jamison, whose Wizards lost 90-89 to the Cavaliers on Friday night after leading in the last 10 seconds of the game. "We did a good job as far as staying competitive and in the second half our bench did a great job, creating some separation between the two teams and we were able to go into the fourth quarter and seal the deal."

The Wizards have another difficult stretch ahead of them with back-to-back games at New Orleans — which leads the Western Conference — and then Houston on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. Washington then travels to take on Chicago on Friday before playing at home on March 2 against the Hornets.