- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 15, 2009

NEW YORK | The Washington Wizards almost seemed to have it all. Yet another electrifying scoring performance from second-year guard Nick Young. A season-best shooting performance by the team from both the field and 3-point range. Balanced scoring contributions from All-Stars Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison.

But the problem was almost. Almost didn’t account for perimeter and interior defense, defensive rebounding or clutch free throw shooting. The host New York Knicks made a living from 3-point range, capitalized on the Wizards’ misses and pulled off a 128-122 victory Wednesday.

For the third time in the last four games, Young came off the bench to lead the Wizards in scoring. But as with those other games, Young’s 33 points - a career high - on 13-for-17 shooting went for naught.

The Knicks knocked down 14 of 26 3-pointers and grabbed 19 offensive rebounds (more than the Wizards’ 17 defensive rebounds), which translated into 25 second-chance points. New York also scored 44 points in the paint.

David Lee led the Knicks (15-22) with 30 points. Quentin Richardson added 26, and Al Harrington posted 27 off the bench.

“Not to insult anyone, but we both decided to play a game of giveaway checkers here,” Wizards coach Ed Tapscott said. “You shoot, I shoot. You shoot, I shoot. That’s far more the Knicks’ game than it is ours. So give them credit that they were able to impose themselves and get the style of game that they wanted much more so than we wanted.”

It was disappointing outcome for the Wizards (7-31), who made 10 of 13 3-pointers and shot 60 percent from the floor. Butler added 25 points, and Mike James and Jamison contributed 20 and 15 points, respectively. If only they could have gotten some stops on defense.

“We were talking in here at halftime, and someone remarked that they had seen more defense on video games,” James said. “It was almost playing pickup basketball. You joke about that, but that’s not a laughing matter. It’s about getting stops in this game, and we weren’t able to get them.”

For the Wizards, the trip to New York was the return to the scene of one of the team’s lowest points of the season. The last time the Wizards played at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 22, the short-handed Knicks - who dressed seven players after making two separate trades the night before - beat the Wizards 122-117 and dropped them to 1-10.

Not even two days later, Wizards team president Ernie Grunfeld fired coach Eddie Jordan and replaced him with Tapscott, the director of player development, in the interim. Grunfeld believed Tapscott could produce better results from the talent on the Wizards’ roster.

But 26 games and two trades later, many of the same ills that hampered the Wizards in November still cripple them.

Although the Wizards now have more scoring threats in their backcourt, they still blow defensive assignments on the perimeter and in the paint and still lack offensive consistency. They slip into scoring droughts because of a lack of aggression and an inability to take care of the ball.

The Wizards opened the game by taking a 20-13 lead midway through the first, but four turnovers by the Wizards helped fuel 14 unanswered Knicks points as New York took a 27-20 lead with 4:04 left in the quarter.

Washington trailed by as many as nine points four different times in the second, the last of which was a 52-43 hole erased by a 10-1 run that gave the Wizards a 64-63 lead. But the quarter ended in a shootout, and New York took a 67-66 halftime lead on a jumper by Lee with 1.8 seconds left.

The Wizards headed to the locker room shooting 61 percent from the field, and their 66 points established a season high for the first half. New York, meanwhile, shot 59.5 percent from the field and made six of 12 shots from 3-point range.

The shootout continued in the second half, but the Knicks remained in front 94-87 heading into the fourth. The Wizards tied the game at 96-96 on a 3-pointer from Butler with 9:29 remaining, but the Knicks kept their distance thanks to four 3-pointers in the final 12 minutes.

“We were getting to the foul line, being aggressive and executing and getting what we wanted, but at the same time, they were getting in the paint and getting what they wanted and getting second-chance buckets,” Butler said. “It’s tough to match them bucket for bucket at home when they’ve got the momentum and guys were raining 3s from everywhere.”

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