- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2008

TORONTO — Forward Antawn Jamison has been the constant for the Washington Wizards this season, carrying the team statistically with All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler on extended injury-induced absences and providing valuable veteran leadership.

And last night he served as the late-game catalyst for a 110-106 overtime victory against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre.

Hampered all week by a sore back that forced him to miss Thursday’s practice, Jamison put the Wizards on his shoulders once again.

With the game tied 102-102 with three minutes left in overtime, Jamison came up with a steal. A minute and a half later, he pulled down a rebound and scored a layup that knotted the score at 104-104. In the last 40 seconds, Jamison went 4-for-4 from the foul line and grabbed another rebound. His play led an 8-2 run, game-clinching run that improved the Wizards’ record to 30-31.

“Antawn’s leadership is contagious and when you have leaders like that, guys have faith and guys believe and they want to support them, and that’s what it’s all about,” coach Eddie Jordan said. “It’s not about matchups and it’s not about X’s and O’s when you play a game like this. It’s about leadership, and digging down and believing in each other.”

Jamison’s teammates — particularly the younger Wizards, who played most of the fourth quarter and overtime instead of some of the usual veterans — followed his lead. Rookie Nick Young, who finished with 14 points, kept his team in the game despite third- and fourth-quarter charges by the Raptors, scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter.

Third-year big man Andray Blatche, who finished with 12 points, played the majority of the fourth quarter and overtime, hit two crucial foul shots and blocked a potential game-tying shot late in the extra period. Roger Mason Jr. came off the bench to score 18 points, including two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.

“The most important thing is them knowing you trust them out there,” Jamison said. “To have Nick out there and let him know he’s playing well and when [Dominic McGuire] comes in hustling. … [Blatche] did a great job coming in and playing defensively … and offensively he did a good job. Mason came in and did a good job. And DeShawn [Stevenson] has been doing it all year.”

With those efforts, the Wizards survived a see-saw second half, helped Washington avoid a repeat of their last showing here (a 39-point loss Jan. 30) and gave them their fifth win in seven games.

The score was 98-98 at the end of regulation after a fourth quarter that featured seven ties and four lead changes.

After leading 53-45 at halftime, the Wizards held a 62-53 advantage early in the third quarter. But they suddenly fell apart. Toronto orchestrated a 16-0 run to take a 69-62 lead. During the awful stretch, the Wizards missed six shots and committed three turnovers.

Blatche stopped the run with a hook shot with 2:20 left in the quarter and Jamison and Young each scored a basket, but the Raptors led 74-68 heading into the fourth quarter after outscoring the Wizards 29-15 in the third.

The Wizards fought back, however. Taking advantage of a 4½-minute stretch at the start of the fourth quarter when Jose Calderon was on the bench, the Wizards rallied to tie the game at 74-74 when Young drove coast-to coast for an acrobatic layup off the glass 2½ minutes into the fourth quarter.

“Everyone played like men out there,” Jordan said. “That’s what it’s all about in this league. We’re happy if we’re winning any game. … We’ve been hammered up here. In pregame, we talked about just trying to have a lot of intensity, a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of belief, guard the perimeter and control the point.”

Last night at Air Canada Centre in Toronto

SEEN AND HEARD

Wizards players and coaches learned that they will play preseason games this fall against the New Orleans Hornets in Berlin and Barcelona as part of the NBA’s European tour. Details have yet to be announced by the NBA. It will be the first overseas trip for the Washington franchise since the Bullets toured China in 1979. …

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan praised the work of Raptors counterpart Sam Mitchell, who in his fourth season has guided Toronto to a 33-27 record and the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference rankings — one spot ahead of Washington.

“I’m a big fan of Coach Mitchell, I really am, and I’m not just saying that,” Jordan said of Mitchell, who last season was named coach of the year. “He has a unique way of coaching, and it’s effective. I think players like playing for him. He leaves it all on the table, he’s been through the wars himself, he’s played with the best pros and under the best coaches. And his own personality means a lot to this team.”

BY THE NUMBERS

34Double-doubles posted this season by Antawn Jamison, who finished with 25 points and 16 rebounds last night.

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