The final seconds ticked down in an agonizingly slow fashion for the Washington Wizards.
Up by two over the Portland Trail Blazers, the Wizards had blown a 15-point fourth quarter lead and were barely hanging on, almost holding their collective breath until the final buzzer. When it sounded, the Wizards found themselves in the win column for the first time this season, eeking out an 84-82 win on Wednesday at Verizon Center.
The win stops the franchise-worst start at 12 and improves Washington's record to 1-12. Almost felled by an ice cold start and a seven-minute fourth quarter scoreless drought, the Wizards played perhaps their best defensive game of the season and handed the Trail Blazers their third straight loss.
"We made it interesting, but we won and that's the most important thing tonight," said Wizards coach Randy Wittman. "Our defense saved the day for us."
The Wizards held the Blazers to 34.9 percent from the floor, and their bench outscored Portland's 46-4. Wittman used 11 players, including Jan Vesely for the final play of the game only, and was able to limit Nene to just over 19 minutes.
Although it's just one win, Wittman, sporting a rare smile in his post game press conference, praised his players for having the kind of thick skin and tough mindedness it takes to keep battling when you're 0-12.
"I told them we just broke through the ice," Wittman said. "I lived in Minnesota for 15 years. This ice was four of five feet thick, but it is broken through now. This was a good win for us."
The Wizards were led by Jordan Crawford (19 points), Trevor Ariza (14) and Kevin Seraphin (10). They also managed to get to the line more than their opponents for a change, connecting on 17 of 19 from the line compared to 12 of 18 for the Blazers.
But Martell Webster cautioned that one win is not a cure-all.
"Right now we're just kind living in the moment, but guys are still getting in here tomorrow and working," Webster said. "This doesn't mean anything. It's the first win. It's about time. We're OK with it, but we're not fully satisfied. We won't be for a while."
The Trail Blazers afforded the Wizards their best opportunity to finally break out of their losing skid. Their next three games are against New York, Miami and Atlanta.
"It's not a sense of relief," Bradley Beal said. "I mean it is, but we can't celebrate too much. We've shown that we're capable of winning now and we just have it keep it up. We did all the little things we needed to do and that's what got us the win tonight."
The Trail Blazers starters played well, with four of five scoring in double figures, led by Nicholas Batum and Damian Lillard (20 points each). LaMarcus Aldridge scored 17 and J.J. Hickson added 15, while the Portland bench players made just two of 13 shots from the floor.
"Fortunately, we're excited," Nene said. "We won tonight and now we have like fresh air."
What appeared to please him the most was hearing Beal, the Wizards' 19-year-old rookie, talk about how much better the Wizards managed to do the little things, like blocking out, making the extra rotation and grabbing rebounds.
It's what Nene has been preaching all along.
"We need to maintain the focus and we need to pay attention to what we're doing," Nene said. "We need to pound the boards, penetrate. We're young, immature. We keep shooting from the outside. But this game is a perfect example to keep looking, keep progressing, keep learning."
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