- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 7, 2007

Adrenaline surges, the type NBA teams experience when they try to make do without key players, often create a rush and then a crash.

For the better part of three quarters last night, the Wizards fed off that energy in front of their 22nd home sellout of the season. But then reality set in for a team playing the remainder of the season — and likely the playoffs — without both forward Caron Butler (hand) and guard Gilbert Arenas (knee surgery).

Butler could only cheer on his teammates, while Arenas was at home, recovering, as the Wizards fell 99-94 at Verizon Center.

Despite being outscored 31-23 in the fourth quarter, the Wizards were in position to win and might have accomplished just that had they not committed 23 turnovers and made just 12 of 22 free throws.

“The game plan is being executed; we want the ball in the paint,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “We want to make the pass and then the next pass, the extra pass, so guys are concentrating and there is discipline that is evident for us.

“But I wish I had a pair of hands to grab half of those turnovers back; you do that and you win the game. And you have to make your free throws, especially our best free throw shooters.”

The Wizards (39-36) led by 10 points in the third quarter and then faded in the fourth, when they turned the ball over six times and missed five of their 13 free throws.

The Cavaliers (46-31) went ahead for good on a pair of free throws from former Wizards guard Larry Hughes (15 points) with 4:17 to play.

Cleveland’s LeBron James led the Cavaliers with 25 points, 14 of which came in the fourth quarter when the Wizards had no answer for him, even when he was off, making just seven of 23 field goals.

For so many games this season, the fourth quarter has belonged to Arenas.

“It’s tough,” said Wizards guard DeShawn Stevenson, who scored 17 points. “You go 74, 75 games with the person that you are looking for in the fourth quarter and he’s not there. I think we did a pretty good job. We’ve just got to be more aggressive at the end.”

The loss was their third in a row, their third home loss in a row. Once strong at home, the Wizards have now lost four of their last six games at Verizon Center.

The loss also leaves the Wizards still looking for their third consecutive playoff berth, something that one more win will assured, something that hasn’t happened for the franchise since the Bullets made five consecutive playoff appearances from 1983 to 1988.

With Antawn Jamison scoring 21 of his game-high 27 points in the first half, the Wizards placed all five of their starters in double-figures.

Antonio Daniels, starting in place of Arenas, finished with 18 points and 12 assists for his second double-double in as many games. However, Daniels committed a game-high seven turnovers.

And center Etan Thomas was strong as well, putting up 10 points and grabbing a game-high 14 rebounds for a career first: his third consecutive double-double.

For most of the season, balanced performances like those mixed in with what the Wizards are used to getting from Arenas and Butler probably would have translated into a blowout.

Those kind of nights, however, are history.

“We’ve called this our shining moment, players and coaches alike,” Jordan said. ” It’s time for us as coaches to lead a team that’s depleted in a crucial situation, and it’s a good time for players to step up and say ‘Look, I can get this done. It’s my time.’ ”

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