Gilbert Arenas knocked down a 20-foot jumper in Steve Nash’s face late in the first quarter and brought back his old Hibachi move. Palms up, he waved his hands back and forth as if warming them on an imaginary grill, then he ran back down the Verizon Center floor Sunday.
Then with 0.8 seconds left in the quarter, Arenas struck again, drilling a 3-pointer. The Wizards had a lead over the visiting Phoenix Suns, and Arenas and his team were in a flow. But neither Arenas nor his teammates were able to continue their production. They cooled suddenly in the second quarter, never heated back up and fell 102-90.
“I was just getting into the rhythm of the game,” Arenas said. “I didn’t play so well in the second half. … I ran out of gas in the third quarter.”
Indeed he did. After opening the game with a 12-point, three-assist, zero-turnover first quarter, Arenas went 3-for-13 the rest of the way and finished with 20 points. Meanwhile, fellow team captain Caron Butler had nearly as bad a game, going 7-for-20 from the field for 19 points.
“I had six layups that I missed. I mean, c’mon,” Butler said, shaking his head after the loss. “In-and-out shots. [Phoenix] wasn’t doing anything different. Shots [we] normally make. I know [Arenas] feels the same way. In-and-out shots. Shots that we make nine times out of 10. It’s just one of those afternoons.”
With Arenas and Butler struggling, the Wizards again were reminded of their desperate need for Antawn Jamison and Mike Miller to make speedy recoveries from shoulder injuries. Without two of their top shooting threats, Washington shot 39 percent from the field and managed just 15 assists compared with 17 turnovers. The Suns, meanwhile, knocked down 12 3-pointers, racked up 30 assists (17 of them coming from Nash) and handed the 2-5 Wizards’ their fourth double-digit defeat of the season.
“When we don’t have Mike and we don’t have Antawn, what happens is that we have three guys who are role-type offensive players, and it puts so much pressure on Caron and Gil,” Wizards coach Flip Saunders said.
Suns coach Alvin Gentry agreed that the absence of Jamison greatly reduces the Wizards’ effectiveness.
“They’re missing their best player,” Gentry said. “With Jamison they’re a different team.”
But early on it looked as if the Wizards would manage to overcome their injury absences.
Washington took a 29-26 lead into the second quarter, but the momentum quickly shifted the Suns’ way as they went on a 7-2 run for a 33-31 lead that forced a Wizards timeout.
The Wizards regrouped and regained the lead thanks to a 14-3 run. But Washington fell flat after that, going just 2-for-9 from the field from that point and turning the ball over three times. Phoenix, meanwhile, went on a 17-6 run and led 56-51 at halftime. The Suns shot 58 percent in a second quarter, highlighted by a 6-for-7 showing from 3-point range.
The Wizards never recovered. Taking advantage of a third quarter in which Washington made only nine of 23 field goals, Phoenix expanded its lead to 80-71. The cold spell extended into the fourth quarter, and Washington staggered off in defeat yet again.
“For the most part I thought we contained what they were trying to do. They shot 47 percent from the field, 44 percent from [3-point range] and 42 percent from the free throw line,” Arenas said. “We’re ninth in defense right now. We just have to get our offense in the right direction. … We’re trying to figure out how to put the ball in the hoop. What the coach wants from each player - that’s where we’re struggling. Before it was defense everyone was complaining about because we could score with anybody. Now we can’t seem to get a hundred.”
Note- By knocking down a jumper with 4:29 left in the first quarter, DeShawn Stevenson hit the 5,000-point mark for his career. The 10th-year guard went on to score two more points - including a vicious two-handed dunk - and has 5,002 career points.
By Elaine Donnelly
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