- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2009

During a third-quarter timeout with the Washington Wizards thoroughly buried in a 20-point hole Saturday night against the visiting San Antonio Spurs, the Foo Fighters’ 1998 hit “My Hero” played.

“Theeere goes my heeero,” Dave Grohl belted over the sound system.

The song was meant to honor members of the armed forces recovering at the District’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center, who were introduced during the break. But it might as well have been played for former Wizards player Roger Mason Jr., who had just erupted to quash any comeback hopes his old running mates might have had and went on to lead the Spurs to a 98-67 victory.

Mason scored a game-high 25 points, including five 3-pointers, and handed out five assists.

“It was fun - definitely not just another game,” Mason said. “It’s always exciting to play in front of family and friends. And playing here last year with these guys, I’ll see them in the summer, so I’m glad we won.”

Last season, the D.C. native and former Virginia standout helped the Wizards overcome the absence of Gilbert Arenas and reach the playoffs. But Mason became a free agent last summer and Wizards management - adverse to exceeding the NBA’s luxury tax spending threshold - deemed Mason expendable. The Spurs awarded him a two-year, $7.3 million contract, and he has since grown into a key contributor.

The Wizards, meanwhile, have plunged to the dregs of the NBA with Arenas injured yet again and additional firepower in the form of guard DeShawn Stevenson and center Brendan Haywood also on the injured list.

On Saturday, when the Wizards posted a season-low in points, Mason reminded his former employers, teammates and fans just how meaningful his services were last season.

The Wizards had trailed all game before rallying from a 52-38 halftime deficit to pull within 59-52 midway through the third quarter. And then Mason - starting in place of the injured Manu Ginobili - burned the Wizards for 10 points and two steals in a 2:41 span.

Each heroic play drew rousing cheers from the home crowd as Mason fueled a 17-4 San Antonio run that translated into a 76-56 advantage. From there, the Wizards never managed to recover and fell to 13-43.

“He is what we need,” forward Antawn Jamison said, shaking his head. “A veteran who knows how to play the game, a guy who can play multiple positions, knock down big shots, defensively sound. That’s a luxury we had last year, that’s a luxury we don’t have this year. And especially with injuries and the things that have taken place this season, he’s a lot more valuable than what he was in the past. But I’m definitely happy for him and his success because he’s a guy that’s put in the work and earned it.”

Jamison finished with 16 points, and Caron Butler scored 24. Darius Songaila added 16, but the rest of the Wizards combined for just 12.

“Anything that you use to justify a performance like tonight comes out as an excuse,” Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott said. “I’m not going to let us make excuses. Bad night, didn’t play well.”

The Wizards started the game shooting just 33 percent from the field while allowing the Spurs to make 53 percent of their shots and take a 25-18 lead heading into the second quarter.

A night after boasting good ball movement and a balanced scoring attack, the Wizards struggled to get anything out of anyone other than workhorses Jamison and Butler. The Spurs, meanwhile, already had three double-digit scorers and held a 52-38 halftime advantage.

The Wizards fared better at the start of the third quarter, using a 14-7 run to pull within 59-52 of the Spurs with 5:47 left in the quarter. Then Mason unleashed on his former teammates and buried them.

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