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Wizards survive gaffes

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 21, 2009

PHILADELPHIA | When the Washington Wizards were in training camp in the first week of October, new coach Flip Saunders praised his players' intensity and effectiveness and said they were making it hard for him to settle on his eight- to nine-man rotation.

Before Tuesday night's 90-89 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, Saunders said his job was getting easier. But it wasn't because players were distinguishing themselves with continued strong play; instead, players were eliminating themselves.

With starting power forward Antawn Jamison healing from a partially dislocated shoulder and guards Gilbert Arenas and Mike Miller out with the flu, the rest of the Wizards had the opportunity to use those extra minutes to make their cases for inclusion in the rotation. But nobody capitalized in Monday's loss at Atlanta, Saunders said.

"Someone asked me earlier, 'You're coming down to looking at rotations. Is it becoming difficult?' " Saunders said before the game. "And I said, 'I was hoping it would be more difficult.' Based on [Monday] night, it won't be as difficult as you hoped it would be.

"But the good thing about our league is we have a game the next night. Guys can bounce back [against the 76ers], show what they learned, what they can do, how they can have an impact on our team, and it can change that whole thing [180] degrees."

And though it wasn't the most fundamentally sound effort, the Wizards got the job done Tuesday night. It almost didn't happen; Mike James, Nick Young, Dominic McGuire, Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee played the final stretch and blew a seven-point lead. But they overcame a series of gaffes to get the victory against former coach Eddie Jordan. Randy Foye was the team's leading scorer with 17 points.

Young made a 17-foot jumper to tie the score at 88-88 with 32 seconds left. Soon after came the kind of mistake that scares coaches - McGee raced the length of the court and took off for a layup from 15 feet out but was stripped of the ball for a turnover.

Then came another mistake. Young fouled Willie Green on a potential game-winner and put him on the line. Green only made one of two shots to put his team ahead 89-88.

But James helped the Wizards rebound by drawing a foul on a 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds left. He made the first two to put his team up 90-89, but Washington's misfortune continued after that. While trying to miss the third shot off the front of the rim, James switched to his left hand and threw up an airball. Philadelphia had one prayer, but time ran out before the Sixers could get off a final shot.

"Well, some guys played better, but then again some guys showed that, in late-game situations, you don't want them in there, so you found out a little bit of both," Saunders said with a relieved chuckle. "That's what they call a learning tape, a learning experience."

Note-Jamison's progress continues at an impressive pace. The power forward has full range of motion and has resumed weightlifting. He was lifting before the game and said he's just waiting for the team's medical staff to clear him for basketball activity.