- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2008

OAKLAND, Calif. Even with forward Caron Butler erring on the side of caution and delaying his return from a strained left hip flexor and point guard Antonio Davis right ankle still sore, the Washington Wizards somehow managed one of their best offensive performances of the season.

But in the end, it was the Wizards defense or lack thereof that did them in.

Despite leading by double digits nearly the entire game, the Wizards collapsed in the fourth quarter last night, losing 120-117 to the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. Golden State outscored Washington 36-22 in the quarter as Stephen Jackson scored 16 of his game-high 41 points.

The defeat was the eighth straight for the Wizards their longest skid since 2001 and might have been the toughest of this recent stretch considering they led by as many as 23 points. Washington (24-27) fell three games below .500 with just tomorrows game at the Los Angeles Clippers remaining before the All-Star Break.

The Wizards got a career-high 32 points from guard Roger Mason, 25 points and 10 rebounds from Antawn Jamison, 20 points and 10 rebounds from center Brendan Haywood and 18 points and seven assists from DeShawn Stevenson. And it still wasnt enough against the Warriors, one of the top scoring teams in the league.

The Wizards led 72-55 at halftime but couldnt find any rhythm in the third quarter. The Warriors managed to shrink the lead to single digits late in the quarter before rookie Dominic McGuire nailed his only shot of the game, a fading 3-pointer at the buzzer from the right wing, to give the Wizards a 95-84 edge entering the fourth.

Time couldnt move quickly enough for the Wizards in the fourth quarter as the Warriors slowly chipped away at the margin. Golden State got within 97-92 before Brendan Haywood stole a rebound from Golden State forward Matt Barnes at the rim and scored an easy two.

Moments later, rookie guard Nick Young took over, giving the Wizards brief hope.

He drilled a runner in the lane for a three-point play, with his free throw giving Washington a 102-94 advantage, and moments later he split Warriors guards Monta Ellis and Baron Davis with an around-the-back-dribble and scooped in a finger roll. He then answered a 3-pointer by Jackson with a pull-up jumper from the baseline, putting the Wizards ahead 107-99 inside of six minutes left.

The lead remained eight with about three minutes left before the Warriors made their final surge behind Jackson, who scored 13 points in a 15-4 run that ended the game. Jackson hit a layup, and Ellis followed with a running bank shot. Jackson then made three consecutive free throws to get the Warriors within one before missing one fortuitously. Andris Biedrins got the rebound and got it back to Jackson, who nailed a 3 for a 115-113 lead that the Warriors never relinquished.

Jackson made five more free throws he was 15-for-17 for the game to salt away the victory.

Whereas the fourth quarter was all Golden State, over the first seven-plus minutes of the game, the Warriors looked like the team down two starters and playing the second game of a back-to-back set.

The Wizards made 11 of their first 15 shots, including three of four from 3-point range. They forced the Warriors into 4-for-12 shooting, seven turnovers and two timeouts the latter of which came after Masons layup put the Wizards ahead 30-12 with 4:10 left in the opening quarter.

The lead grew to as much as 23 in the second quarter. The Warriors scored the first four points of the quarter to cut the Wizards lead to 11. But over the next five minutes, Washington pulled ahead again with a 22-10 run, which started and ended with 3-pointers by Mason that put the Wizards ahead 64-41 with 4:20 left in the half.

They went into the locker room ahead 72-55, mostly on the strength of their hot shooting. Washington was 9-for-14 from behind the arc in the first half, which negated the Warriors 51 percent shooting in the first half. Mason knocked down five of six 3s, fueling his 21-point first half performance.

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