- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2008

NEW ORLEANS — In the trying month of February, the short-handed Washington Wizards have held their own against quality opponents for most of the game only to fall short in the end.

But the Wizards — who were still without Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler — reversed the trend last night.

DeShawn Stevenson nailed a 3-pointer at the horn to give the Wizards a 95-92 victory over the New Orleans Hornets.

The play capped an electrifying fourth quarter in which Washington tied the score three times, took its first lead of the game with 14.4 seconds left and then won in dramatic fashion.

“We’ve been playing great teams, and right now every team we play we’ve been keeping it close but can’t close,” said Stevenson, who scored a career-high 33 points. “We kept it close. … I kept getting some and-one calls and some easy buckets. I think as a team we kept it together. They’re a great team. Chris Paul does a great job, and we kept fighting, and we got it.”

The Wizards, who tied the game seven times, mounted the decisive run with 9:48 left. Trailing 77-70, Washington went on an 8-2 surge to pull within 79-78. Stevenson went to work on the latter part of that tear, scoring nine of his 16 fourth-quarter points in a three-minute span.

Washington had pulled within one of New Orleans three times, but the Hornets calmly called a timeout and then responded with bursts that resulted in decent leads.

But there was no late-game run from New Orleans. With 3:28 left, Wizards center Brendan Haywood made two foul shots to tie the game 86-86. Then a minute later, Stevenson tied the game again, going 2-for-2 at the line to tie it 88-88.

New Orleans’ Peja Stojakovic drilled a 24-foot 3-pointer with 1:07 left to give his team the lead, but Haywood scored on an assist from Antawn Jamison, and Stevenson hit two foul shots with 14.4 left on the clock, giving Washington a 92-91 lead.

Hilton Armstrong was fouled in the paint but missed both foul shots with 7.3 seconds left. He got a gift, however, when the referee said Jamison charged into the lane too soon when going for the rebound. Armstrong made good on the third shot to tie the game.

Then the Wizards went right back to Stevenson.

“I got the ball. I was doing it all night. Got to halfcourt and saw Peja try to steal the ball. I got past him and was gonna try to go to the basket,” said Stevenson, who after putting the move on Stojakovic got a screen from Haywood along the left sideline before the shot. “But in my mind I was thinking, it’s a tie game, so I just pulled up, nobody was around me and it went in.”

Haywood finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. Roger Mason Jr. had 12 points, and Jamison and Antonio Daniels had 10 each.

It was the Wizards’ second straight victory but just their third in 12 games.

“At some point, you get tired of losing all those close games,” Haywood said. “We’ve been in a lot of close games, and we haven’t pulled them out. But at the same time, when you lose like that, you get a little bit better. You get a little bit wiser. And the same plays that we weren’t making when we were losing, we were making. We made winning basketball plays.”

Washington began the second half with a different lineup than the one that opened the game. Dominic McGuire and Mason were on the floor with Jamison, Haywood and Stevenson instead of Andray Blatche and Antonio Daniels.

The move worked as Washington erased New Orleans’ hefty advantage, going on a 14-4 surge to cut the lead to 56-55 and forcing a Hornets timeout 4½ minutes into the third quarter. New Orleans answered, however, taking a 78-68 lead at the end of the quarter.

The Wizards, who lost the first three games of their last road trip, now head to Houston for tonight’s game on a positive note.

“To come in here and beat one of the best teams in the NBA, it’s definitely big for our confidence in starting out this road trip,” McGuire said.

Today’s game

WASHINGTON WIZARDS AT HOUSTON ROCKETS

When: 8:30 p.m.

Where: Toyota Center

TV/radio: CSN, AM-980

Probable starters: Wizards — F Antawn Jamison, F Andray Blatche, C Brendan Haywood, G Antonio Daniels, G DeShawn Stevenson.Rockets —F Shane Battier, F Luis Scola, C Yao Ming, G Rafer Alston, G Tracy McGrady.

Injuries: Wizards — F Caron Butler (hip), G Gilbert Arenas (knee), C Etan Thomas (heart surgery). Rockets — Steve Francis (quadriceps).

Outlook: The Wizards face the hottest team in the league in the Rockets (36-20), who have won 12 straight games. … Haywood likely will have his hands full with Yao, who is averaging 22.0 points and 10.8 rebounds. Tracy McGrady ranks second on the team in scoring with 21.5 points. … Washington will play its 10th straight game and 13th in the last 15 without Caron Butler, who remained in the District to rehab his strained left hip flexor rather than travel with the team.

Mike Jones


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