Fighting to hang onto the sixth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Washington Wizards would have preferred to begin a crucial five-game homestand with a win last night against the Charlotte Bobcats.
But instead, the Bobcats took advantage of a slow start by the short-handed Wizards and then held off a late charge to earn a 100-97 victory at Verizon Center.
The Wizards, playing less than 24 hours after outlasting the Raptors 110-106 in overtime in Toronto, appeared spent, putting up flat shots and struggling to contain Charlotte's Jason Richardson and Matt Carroll.
Richardson torched the Wizards for 34 points on 13-for-20 shooting, and Carroll, who entered the game averaging 8.7 points, finished with 23, including six 3-pointers.
Antawn Jamison led the Wizards with 30 points and 10 rebounds and Antonio Daniels and DeShawn Stevenson added 14 and 11 points, respectively — most of them late in the game. But Washington failed for the second time in the week to reach the .500 mark and fell to 30-32.
Charlotte (24-39) raced out to a 35-21 lead after shooting 70 percent from the field in the first quarter (77.8 percent from 3-point range).
Richardson fueled the hot start, scoring 16 points in the quarter while making four of five 3-point attempts. Carroll hit all three of his attempts from 3-point range.
"We had a poor start in the first quarter," Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. "You can't let them get 30-something points. We just didn't recover from that. I'm happy about some of our bench guys coming and helping us. But overall, we just didn't have the athleticism and the energy to come back from that quarter."
The Wizards, who defeated the Bobcats in each of their three previous meetings this season, clawed their way back into the game thanks to a boost from their reserves.
Roger Mason Jr. — who finished with 15 points — scored eight straight points, including back-to-back 3-pointers, and Nick Young (11 points) hit pull-up jumpers on consecutive trips down the court, cutting the lead to 44-34. Charlotte coach Sam Vincent called a timeout with his team in the middle of a 0-for-7 drought. But the Wizards starters re-entered the game and maintained the momentum, pulling within 46-42 with 4:04 left in the half.
The Bobcats rediscovered their shooting touch, however, and took a 54-47 lead at halftime and extended their lead to 80-70 after three quarters.
Finally, down 89-77 with just more than three minutes to play, the Wizards capitalized on another Charlotte cold spell, which saw the Bobcats miss four shots and two free throws.
Daniels drove the lane for a dunk to start the surge, Stevenson made a long 3-pointer and Jamison scored on a put-back to cut the lead to 89-84.
Charlotte regained an eight-point lead, but Washington answered with a 7-3 run to make the score 94-91. The Wizards had to foul to stop the clock and Earl Boykins knocked down both free throws.
With 14.8 seconds left, Jamison's 3-pointer pulled Washington within 96-94. Another foul followed, and Richardson hit the second of two attempts to put his team up by three.
Mason tried to get off a 3-pointer, but Carroll swarmed him. The guard then drove to the basket and drew a foul. he made both foul shots with 9.3 seconds left and Washington trailed only 97-96.
Richardson went back to the line, however, and made both attempts. Stevenson got the inbounds pass and raced up the court, but Raymond Felton fouled him.
The guard made the first and tried to throw the second shot off the backboard to give a teammate an opportunity for an offensive rebound. But Carroll came up with the ball and hit the first of two free throws to clinch the game.
"This was a game that meant a lot for us," Jamison said. "And to come up short, it kinda stings right now."
A win would've put the Wizards at the .500 mark for the first time since Jan. 25 and it also would've further protected the Wizards' 1½-game lead over Philadelphia for the sixth spot in the East. But instead Washington's advantage dwindled to a single game.
"We weren't with it after that back-to-back," said Stevenson, who was 2-for-10 from 3-point range. "We had to come out and play hard. I didn't have a good game, so it [stinks]. ... We beat Charlotte many times in their place [and] our place and tonight, they came out with a sense of urgency and brought it to us."
Last night at Verizon Center
"At the time, I liked the guys that were on the floor. They were young, but they've got to play because I'm not going to play guys who are not getting it done out there."
— Wizards coach Eddie Jordan on the play of Nick Young, Andray Blatche and Mason in Friday night's win over the Toronto Raptors
SEEN AND HEARD
A TV reporter asked Wizards center Brendan Haywood in the locker room before the game whether he had a prediction for last night's North Carolina-Duke battle. Obviously the former Tar Heels center picked Carolina. He was then asked how potent a duo he and current Tar Heels forward Tyler Hansbrough would've formed.
Haywood started with, "It could've been something, but we'll never know," when he was interrupted by teammate Roger Mason Jr., who reminded Haywood that North Carolina lost to his alma mater Virginia in Haywood's senior year.
Haywood grabbed the microphone from the reporter and told Mason he wasn't welcome in the conversation because it was regarding tournament teams. "Oh, but you'll make the tournament," Haywood added. "Y'all win that NIT! NIT! NIT! NIT!"
Mason hurriedly left the locker room, chuckling while hanging his head in shame and conceding defeat.