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Wizards’ shooting goes cold in Phoenix

- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 19, 2009

PHOENIX | The Washington Wizards snapped a six-game losing streak Friday night at Golden State in their next to last stop of their week-long road trip. But the magic of that game, which saw Gilbert Arenas posting his best game in two and a half years, Caron Butler recording a season high and four players posting double-doubles, did not carry over into their date with the Phoenix Suns the following night.

After engaging the Warriors in a high-energy run-and-gun game just 24 hours earlier, on Saturday the Wizards were short on energy, sloppy in execution and got run out of the gym by a score of 121-95 to drop to 8-17 on the season.

The Wizards knew they would need a strong effort to compete with the Suns (16-9), but also were aware of what a challenge it would be.

The Suns already had thumped Washington 102-90 in the District in the seventh game of the season, and they entered Saturday's game with a league-best 9-0 record at home and with a league-best 108.5-point a game scoring average. The Wizards, meanwhile, were just 4-10 on the road, and to expound on the execution deficiencies and weaknesses, they also were banged up to a degree.

Antawn Jamison had a stinger in his neck from that collision with Stephen Curry in Friday night's game. Gilbert Arenas had a badly bruised right hip from a fall he took against Golden State, and Caron Butler had a bad left ankle that was heavily wrapped, and prompted him to try a different shoe for better support.

And then there was the fact that while posting season highs of 45 and 28 points, respectively, Arenas and Butler also had each played more than 45 minutes apiece the night before.

But the Wizards weren't going to get any sympathy from the Suns. Instead Nash & Co. pounced on them to take a 30-21 lead by the end of the first quarter. The Suns used a balanced effort that was paced by seven points and five assists from Nash. Meanwhile, aside from a nine-point start by Jamison, the Wizards struggled and made only nine of 24 field goal attempts in the first.

"We wanted to get a good jump," Nash said. "You don't really want to worry about what they're doing. We just wanted to come out and play well and avenge a tough loss in Portland [on Thursday]. I thought we did a good job. We came out and were pretty focused and the second unit did a good job as well. It was a good performance."

Arenas tried to shoot his team back into the game in the second quarter, launching 14 shots. He made only four of them, but he did get to the line six times and made five of those attempts, racking up 18 points by halftime.

The problem was, none of his teammates were able to muster significant production, and Washington (which shot 37.5 percent from the field in the half) went in at halftime down 63-47.

The Suns only intensified their assault in the third quarter. With Amare Stoudemire leading the way with 14 points and five rebounds, Phoenix outscored Washington 39-25 in the third quarter and entered the fourth quarter with a 102-72 lead.

"We just didn't have the effort tonight, and this is one of those teams that will embarrass you if you come out without any energy, and they did," Arenas said.

The hefty lead afforded Suns coach Alvin Gentry the luxury of pulling his starters. Nash called it a night with 15 points and 15 assists while Stoudemire took a seat with 23 points and 14 rebounds, and Jason Richardson who according to the injury report had a sprained hand, but appeared to be just fine against Washington -- sat with 22 points on 10-for-18 shooting and six rebounds.

Nash's assist total was one more than Washington had the whole game, and it marked the sixth time this season and second time versus the Wizards -- that the Phoenix point guard has single-handed outdone an opposing team in the assist column.

Arenas left the game with 5:38 remaining in the third quarter with his team down 82-57, and his fellow starters watched the entire fourth quarter as well. The guard's final stat line read 22 points on 6-for--21 shooting, three assists, four rebounds and two turnovers. Jamison had 15 points and four rebounds, and Butler added 10.

Nick Young had 20 points off the bench for the Wizards, and Randy Foye whose playing time has been minimal in the last month recorded 13 points and a team-high four assists off the bench, with all of his points and all but one assist coming in the second half.

But Foye said afterwards, "I'd rather watch from the bench and [see] us win than score a lot and us lose." Saunders was left once again to be frustrated over his players failing to execute the gameplan and as a result suffer another defeat.

"You can come up with excuses every night, why not to play," Saunders said. "It's a back-to-back, we've been on the road for eight [days], it's the last game of the road trip. If you want to even be an average team, those thoughts can't enter your mind. It's almost as though the last thing we wanted to do was to be out there tonight. It's pretty much unacceptable."

The Wizards on Tuesday play their first home game in 10 days when the Philadelphia 76ers come to town.