Wizards find the right elixir

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There’s an old proverb that says a joyful heart does good like a medicine. For the Washington Wizards, so does playing an opponent like the Los Angeles Clippers.

At the end of a dismal month in which Washington won only three of 16 games and lost three players to injury, the Wizards finally got relief Saturday night in the form of a 106-94 victory against the Clippers at Verizon Center.

A night after blowing a third-quarter lead before falling 104-94 at Philadelphia, all the ills that had plagued the Wizards for much of this season disappeared for a night. Washington (10-37) won the second game of a back-to-back in its 10th attempt, snapping a six-game losing streak.

In a rare occurrence, the Wizards not only got strong performances from workhorses Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler but also a balanced effort from the rest of their starters and a young bench. They also managed to outdo the Clippers in rebounds, assists, second-chance points and fast-break points.

Jamison led the Wizards with 25 points and 12 rebounds; Butler had 15 points, seven assists and 13 rebounds. Leading an energized bench were Nick Young, who scored 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting, and rookie center JaVale McGee with 18 points and nine rebounds.

The Wizards forced the Clippers (10-37) into 25 turnovers and outrebounded them 49-38 to start a five-game homestand.

“It’s funny to think that a team with our record has a ‘must-win’ game,” interim coach Ed Tapscott said. “But let’s put it this way: It’s a good win.”

The Clippers committed 10 turnovers in the first quarter, and the Wizards scored 11 points off them. But even after those gifts, Washington held only a 26-22 lead after the first.

With Washington up 42-39 and the Clippers’ Ricky Davis at the line in the second quarter, the Wizards sent Darius Songaila, Mike James and Butler into the game for DeShawn Stevenson, McGee and Javaris Crittenton. But when the three Wizards came to the bench, Young left the game with them, leaving Washington with four players on the court.

Tapscott looked at the court and realized something didn’t look right. He turned to the bench, saw Young and barked at the second-year player to get back into the game.

Young made up for his gaffe, scoring nine of the Wizards’ final 13 points in the quarter, including seven straight. Young’s final two came on a fast-break jam with 4.9 seconds left in the half. Then James closed out the half by drilling a 3-pointer at the horn to give Washington a 58-47 lead.

The Wizards extended their lead to 13 on a 3-pointer from Jamison 2:15 into the third quarter. The Clippers pulled within 77-75 with 42 seconds left in the period, then Washington regained its rhythm.

Stevenson, a night after going 0-for-6 in his return from a 15-game injury layoff, drilled a 20-foot jumper at the horn to put Washington up 81-75 heading into the fourth. As he backpedaled down the court, he riled up the Wizards faithful with his “I-can’t-feel-my-face” hand wave - a gesture not seen from the guard in some time. In the fourth, Butler went up for a thunderous, one-handed jam over Brian Skinner, extending Washington’s lead to 88-75 and whipping the crowd of 18,277 into another frenzy.

For the first time since a Jan. 16 home win against New York, the fans actually had something to cheer.

“Tonight was a great step in the right direction,” said Butler, whose team hosts Memphis on Monday. “And seeing the young guys perform the way they did was encouraging. But it’s about consistency and hopefully we can keep it going on Monday.”

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