After five straight losses, all highlighted by poor shooting and passive defense, the Washington Wizards avoided the worst start in franchise history with a 95-87 victory over the visiting Utah Jazz on Wednesday night.
Using a 21-11 fourth-quarter rally and four double-digit scorers, the Wizards put together their best effort so far this season to earn their first victory.
Caron Butler led Washington with 27 points - 14 in the fourth quarter - and nine rebounds, while Antawn Jamison tallied 21 points and eight rebounds. JaVale McGee added 13 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks, and Nick Young contributed 10 points.
“What we saw tonight was what we can become and what we can be if we work hard for 48 minutes and respect the game of basketball, and we respect that team and that coach and that system more than any in the NBA,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “That was a quality win against a quality opponent. … And hopefully it’s a sign of what we can be and do on a nightly basis.”
The Wizards spent most of the game trading baskets with the Jazz in a game that featured 25 ties. But Washington never came up with the big play it needed to take the lead.
Just when it appeared as if the Jazz were starting to pull away, Butler forced a 77-77 tie by scoring off the glass, drawing a foul and converting the three-point play. After a Carlos Boozer jump shot, Jamison came back on the other end with a finger roll with 3:12 left.
Then, taking advantage of a missed 3-pointer by Kyle Korver and a Utah turnover, the Wizards took a brief lead. Butler caught an outlet pass, streaked down the court and was fouled going up for the shot. He knocked down both free throws for an 81-79 lead.
But it didn’t last. Paul Millsap scored on a drive to the basket and was fouled by McGee, then gave Utah an 82-81 lead on the ensuing foul shot.
Jamison put Washington back in front with a wide open 3-pointer with two minutes left, sparking a 12-0 run that gave the Wizards a 93-82 advantage.
“We had run the same play three or for possessions earlier and I was open, but Caron got a charge,” Jamison said. “Coach said, ‘Let’s run it because he’s open.’ And once Coach said I’m going to look for you, I pretty much had it in my mind what was going to happen. Realizing it was coming my way and not moving to the left or drifting or fading away was basically the only thing I was thinking.”
Boozer led the Jazz with 20 points and seven rebounds but fouled out with a little less than two minutes left in the game.
Unlike the first five games, when the Wizards struggled early, they got off to a solid start against the Jazz. They shot 50 percent from the field and spent most of the first quarter trading baskets with their opponents.
The Wizards did, however, allow the Jazz to knock down four 3-pointers in the quarter, the last of which was a buzzer-beater by Ronnie Brewer that gave Utah a 26-23 lead.
McGee wasted no time giving Washington a boost. He entered the game with 3:37 left in the first, and by the time the quarter had ended, he had six points - including an emphatic jam - two rebounds and two blocks.
After starting in place of an injured Antonio Daniels on Saturday, Juan Dixon returned to his normal reserve role. He provided his usual spark, knocking down a 3-pointer 19 seconds into the second quarter to tie the score at 26-26. It was the first of seven ties in the second quarter, and after the last (38-38 with 3:45 left in the half), Washington took charge.
Jamison hit an 18-footer for his team’s second lead of the half, and Butler scored two consecutive baskets. Williams knocked down a 3 with a minute left, but McGee closed out the quarter with a dunk to give Washington a 46-41 halftime lead.