- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2007

The players on the Sacramento Kings’ bench charged the floor, swallowing up momentary hero John Salmons.

That was after Salmons already had performed his own celebration, thinking he had just completed the Kings’ rally from 17 points down in the fourth quarter and set the table for an overtime in which his team likely would have carried the momentum.

He was wrong.

Salmons’ apparent 3-pointer — the result of a three-quarter court pass by Brad Miller with 0.7 seconds to play — was ruled no good following the officials’ review of the play. The Washington Wizards, who along with their 15,508 fans at Verizon Center waited at least a minute before the ruling was final, escaped with a maddening 109-106 victory.

The Wizards (31-21) embark on a three-game road trip beginning today in Chicago knowing they nearly allowed a 95-78 lead with just more than eight minutes to play to turn into a heartbreaking loss. They almost blew Gilbert Arenas’ 43-point performance — although his season-high matching nine turnovers didn’t help much, either. And as a team, they were just sloppy altogether, committing a season-high 23 turnovers.

“We didn’t execute well at the end, but we did what we had to do at the end to win,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “There are different ways to win in this league and the most important thing is we won and we are 10 games over .500.”

Trailing 95-78 after Caron Butler (25 points) sank a pair of free throws, the Kings (23-30) mounted a serious rally. Led by Mike Bibby’s 14 fourth-quarter points (30 for the game), the Kings took a 103-102 lead on Bibby’s 3-pointer with 1:35 to play.

Shortly thereafter, Arenas — who on the night was 16-for-17 from the line — hit two foul shots with 9.5 seconds to play, giving Washington a 107-103 lead. Salmons pulled the Kings to within 107-106 when he hit his only legitimate 3-pointer of the game with 1.4 seconds left.

Wizards forward Jarvis Hayes then made one of two free throws, and Arenas did the same to give Washington a 109-106 lead and thus setting the table for Salmons’ last ditch attempt.

On the play Salmons actually caught the ball inside the 3-point line, and his step back across the line took off precious time — although it was his only option considering the Kings trailed by three.

The pass reached him despite Arenas’ leaping attempt to deflect the ball, and DeShawn Stevenson (21 points) trying to defend the shot as best as he could.

Stevenson never thought the shot had tied the game.

“I didn’t,” Stevenson said. “I thought it was a two, but either way I didn’t want to foul him.”

Replays clearly showed the red light surrounding the backboard went off before the ball left Salmons’ hands.

“I didn’t know what the play looked like until I saw the replay,” Salmons said. “It happened so fast, I was just reacting to the situation. I was pretty sure I was behind the 3-point line, but it happened so fast I wasn’t really sure what went on.”

The win evened the Wizards’ record at 4-4 in the absence of Antawn Jamison, who has a sprained left knee. It also puts the Wizards 10 games above .500 for the second time this season.

Washington has now won three straight games, quelling the gloom and doom scenarios that sprouted after Jamison hurt his knee in the team’s Jan. 30 victory over Detroit.

Arenas had 19 of Washington’s 33 points by the end of the first quarter, in which the Wizards shot 57 percent and led 33-29.

As hot as Arenas was in the first quarter, the same was also true of Ron Artest, who had 15 and finished with 32.

Artest, known mainly as a defensive specialist, just couldn’t keep up with Arenas.

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