As they prepared to play host to the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night, the Washington Wizards knew they would need to catch a break to snap a three-game losing streak against the Eastern Conference's fourth-ranked team.
And at first it looked as if they would get it. With winter weather pounding the Atlantic Coast, the Hawks not only were coming off of a heartbreaking loss Sunday night to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they also had their flight out of Atlanta delayed and didn't reach the District until 6 a.m. Monday.
But in keeping with the theme of this season, it again didn't work out for the long-suffering Wizards. Just before the game, the Wizards learned that they would be without second-leading scorer Caron Butler because of tightness in his left hamstring. Without his much-needed scoring punch, Washington suffered a 98-89 loss in front of an announced crowd of 10,189 at Verizon Center that appeared to be smaller.
With the loss, the Wizards (14-46) fell to 0-13 in the Southeast Division and took another dubious step toward becoming the first team in NBA history to go winless in its division. The Wizards have a game remaining against each of the other division opponents - Orlando, Miami and Charlotte.
“It's frustrating not being able to get a win, period,” said Wizards forward Antawn Jamison, who led his team with 23 points and nine rebounds. “It's pretty much how it's been going all year. [Interim coach Ed Tapscott] brought it to our attention that it's never happened in history that a team has not gotten a win in its division, but that's the least of our worries right now. ... The same things and not having [Butler] really limited us tonight, but you have to go with what you have.”
Without Butler and guard DeShawn Stevenson, who is set for season-ending back surgery Thursday, the Wizards dressed just 10 players. Washington also was forced to utilize its 13th starting lineup, which featured Mike James at point guard, Dominic McGuire at shooting guard, Andray Blatche at small forward, Jamison at power forward and Darius Songaila at center.
Despite Butler's absence, the Wizards managed a balanced attack with five double-digit scorers. And the Wizards even outrebounded the Hawks 40-35. But not having Butler, who is averaging 20.3 points a game, meant coming up just short against Atlanta, which also had five double-digit scorers.
McGuire had previously started 34 games at small forward and prided himself on doing the dirty work, such as grabbing rebounds and blocking shots. He held the same philosophy despite moving to shooting guard and had a career-high eight assists by halftime.
Atlanta guard Joe Johnson matched McGuire's final total of nine assists in the first half, fueling his team to a 46-45 lead at intermission.
The Hawks remained just out of reach during the third quarter before going on a 12-4 run to close out the period with a 71-63 lead. They then edged Washington 27-26 in the final quarter and departed with a nine-point victory.
Marvin Williams led the Hawks with 28 points, while Al Horford and Johnson added 16 apiece.
“Sometimes you hit upon the inexplicable,” Tapscott said. “I thought we should've been the team with the energy tonight considering they played a tough game against Cleveland, got in late. But I guess that's what happens when you have a player like Joe Johnson to bail you out. I'm sure [they]... would say that wasn't their A-game, but two players got it going in critical points - Joe and obviously Marvin - and we just couldn't get that extra guy.”
JaVale McGee added 14 points and nine rebounds off the bench, and Blatche and Songaila scored 12 points apiece. Javaris Crittenton finished with 10 points, five rebounds and three assists.