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.
“It’s frustrating because I live for moments like this, and I’m just trying to work my way [back],” Arenas continued. “And the team has been behind me since we started and I feel like I’m letting them down right now, especially because they were used to the glory days. But I guess I can’t hit every game-winner. At one point I was 19-for-21 on end of game shots. At the end of the day, it all evens out and one day I’m going to start hitting them again.”
At one point it appeared that the game wouldn’t even come down to a need for late heroics. Despite getting 20 first-half points from Antawn Jamison, the Wizards trailed the young Kings 59-54 at halftime.
The Wizards came out with more energy to start the second half and went on a 6-0 run thanks to a layup by Brendan Haywood and back-to-back baskets by Caron Butler and led 60-59 just less than two minutes into the third quarter.
Washington went on to build a 73-69 lead — their largest margin of the game — but failed to sustain their momentum. After a pair of free throws from Jamison gave the Wizards their 72nd and 73rd points, Washington missed five straight shots and turned the ball over twice in a three minutes span and suddenly saw their four-point advantage turn into a four-point deficit. The Kings kept rolling to orchestrate what was a 13-4 run to take an 89-80 lead into the fourth quarter, and didn’t stop there.
Tyreke Evans opened the fourth quarter with a layup, Spencer Hawes charged down the lane for a dunk and Evans scored on yet another layup to give the Kings a 95-84 lead at the 9:42 mark. The Kings’ largest lead of the final quarter was 100-88 with 6:23 to play before Washington posted a 20-9 run that fell short when Arenas turned the ball over and fouled out, and when Butler’s opportunity to lift the team narrowly slipped by.
“I felt it was good,” said Butler, who squared up and got a clean look at the basket although two Kings players were running at him. “I thought it was good, but it rimmed in and out. That’s how it goes.”
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