- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2008

It seemed like the recipe for another blowout.

The Washington Wizards, in their third straight game without leading scorer Caron Butler, faced the Utah Jazz, a team coach Eddie Jordan described as “the best executing team in the league.”

But the Jazz turned in a rather flat performance, sparing the Wizards embarrassment, and in the end, Washington couldn’t capitalize and lost 96-87 last night at Verizon Center.

The last time the teams met in the District on Jan. 15, 2007, Gilbert Arenas scored 51 points, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to lift Washington 114-111.

But last night’s game had no such heroics as the teams slogged through a sloppy affair that included 28 turnovers (15 by Utah).

“We held them to 42 percent shooting, that’s positives, for a team that’s No. 1 in the league in field goal percentage,” Jordan said. “But we just couldn’t score. We couldn’t keep the scoring pace. Antawn [Jamison] is carrying the load, and we didn’t really have anyone else who could pick up the slack.”

Jamison led the Wizards with 31 points and seven rebounds. Andray Blatche — starting in place of Butler, who was still out with a strained left hip flexor — finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds, while Antonio Daniels finished with 16 points and four assists.

Washington’s players shut down Utah cornerstone Carlos Boozer, limiting him to four points and eight rebounds.

Foul trouble limited Jazz point guard Deron Williams for much of the game, but in the fourth quarter he got going, finishing with 11 points and 12 assists. Mehmet Okur led the Jazz with 27 points, while Andrei Kirilenko added 15. Ronnie Brewer added 12 points.

“I struggled in the first half,” said Williams, whose team won its seventh straight game. “I got into foul trouble, which kind of took my aggressive mentality away. In the third, coach [Jerry Sloan] told me not to let the fouls take my aggressiveness away. In the fourth, I made a point to come out and shoot the ball.”

It marked the fourth loss in the last six games for the Wizards, who dating to last season are 5-22 without Butler.

The Wizards, who shot 37.8 percent from the field and were 3-for-19 from 3-point range, held a 39-38 lead at halftime. But they struggled to maintain the momentum and fell behind 67-66 heading into the fourth.

The Jazz didn’t let their poor execution serve as a source of frustration and steadily worked their way into a rhythm, closing out the game with a 29-21 fourth quarter.

“We put ourselves in position to win, down by only a point going into the fourth quarter, so the game was in reach,” said Jamison, whose team got only four points from its reserves. “But down the stretch we didn’t execute right offensively, and defensively we had some breakdowns. You treat it as a tough loss even though we didn’t have Caron, but any time we’re out there, I think we have enough to get it done.

“Those guys just did a great job down the stretch, executing and getting the proper plays and getting the ball moving.”

The Wizards took advantage of the Jazz’s early flatness, cashing in nine first-quarter turnovers for 12 points. Washington jumped out to a 21-9 lead and held a 21-11 advantage at the end of the quarter.

But Utah went on a 19-6 run to start the second quarter to take a 28-27 lead with four minutes left to play. The Jazz continued the momentum on back-to-back 3-pointers from Kyle Korver to extend their lead to 34-29 with 3:08 left in the half.

The Wizards bounced back, however, closing out the second quarter with a 10-4 run to lead 39-38 at halftime.

Note — The Wizards played in front of a crowd of 20,173, the team’s 12th sellout of the season. The majority of that sellout crowd started heading for the exits with two minutes left.

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