- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 17, 2009

SACRAMENTO, Calif. | The Washington Wizards and Sacramento Kings spent much of last season trapped in the NBA’s basement and battling for ping-pong balls rather than coveted playoff spots.

The Kings finished with two fewer victories than the 19-win Wizards and got the fourth spot in the draft while Washington was awarded the fifth spot. Sacramento used that pick to take Memphis point guard Tyreke Evans. The Wizards traded their pick to Minnesota for Mike Miller and Randy Foye.

So far only one team has begun to see a return on their investment and has begun to turn things around. That team is not the Wizards, who on Wednesday night suffered yet another heartbreaking loss, this time 112-109 to Evans and Kings at ARCO Arena.

Evans put on an impressive performance, recording 26 points, six rebounds and six assists to help the Kings improve to 11-13 and 10-3 at home. Meanwhile the Wizards were without the injured Miller for their 11th game and they played Foye only six minutes, and Washington fell to 7-16 on the season and suffered their sixth straight loss by two baskets or less.

As he has for much of this season, Evans — the leading candidate for Rookie of the year — served as the catalyst for his team’s victory, and he basically single-handedly slammed the door on the Wizards with his defense and his poise.

After trailing 105-94 with 4:23 left to play, the Wizards came back with a 15-5 charge paced by eight points from Gilbert Arenas. With his team clinging to a 110-108 lead with 16.6 seconds left, Evans was called for a dead-ball foul when he held Arenas’ jersey to keep his counterpart from getting open for a game-winning shot.

Caron Butler made foul shot after the call, pulling Washington within a basket, and then Evans quickly redeemed himself.

Arenas had the ball at the top of the key and tried to cross Evans over, but the 6-foot-6 rookie who boasts a 7-foot-3 wingspan reached in and poked the ball away just as his elder made his move. Arenas reached out and grabbed Evans to prevent a breakaway dunk, and in so doing, committed his sixth foul and had to leave the game.

“I was just trying to stop him,” said Evans, who worked out for the Wizards this summer and impressed management. “I was trying not to let him get a good shot and put my hand in his face. I looked and he didn’t know where my hand was at and then I got the steal.”

Said Sacramento coach Paul Westpaul: “It was almost poetic to have it come down to a clear-out for Arenas and to have Tyreke pick his pocket. We’ve got a kid that’s somebody in this league and it’s really fun to see that and have the building rocking.”

The ending was far from poetic for Arenas, however. It was the second straight game in which Arenas had fouled out, and the fourth time in the last six games that he has blown an opportunity to rescue his team in the closing seconds.

Evans calmly made both free throws on the other end to give his team a three-point lead, and when Butler’s 3-pointer following a timeout rimmed in and out, the Kings escaped victorious.

Arenas — who is healthy for the first time in two years following three knee surgeries and only 15 regular season games played — was left again to wonder when he will regain his old game-closing form.

“This is the fourth loss under my belt. I personally lost it at the end,” said Arenas who saw his 33-point, six assists, six rebound performance wasted. “Soon as it happened I was like, ‘oh [expletive]!’ And then the only thing I could do was foul him and put him at the free throw line. At the end of the day, smart layup or the break. I had to do the smart basketball play and just foul him.

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