- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 17, 2009

Down by six to the visiting New York Knicks with three minutes to play, the Washington Wizards were in an all-too-familiar situation. They played well in the first half, took a double-digit lead into halftime, slipped in a customary lull in the third quarter and appeared on the verge of another collapse.

But during a timeout, point guard Mike James had a message for his teammates.

“Mike James came to the sideline and said: ‘Not today. Definitely get this win, y’all. We’ve got it, we’ve got it,’” forward Caron Butler recalled. “We were down by six, got a key stop, made a couple of plays and got over the hump.”

After James gave his pep talk, the Wizards came roaring back to capture a 96-89 victory and snap a six-game losing streak.

Exiting the timeout, forward Antawn Jamison, who led Washington (8-31) with 28 points and eight rebounds despite playing with a bruised right hand and tendinitis in his right wrist, scored on a putback. Then James made a 3-pointer on an assist from Butler. Knicks point guard Chris Duhon put up a shot on the other end, but Nick Young swatted it away, then drilled a 21-foot pull-up jumper.

Thus began a 15-0 run by the Wizards, who led 96-87 before the Knicks scored again with 2.9 seconds left.

“It was just a joint effort,” said James, who scored 19 points and had four assists. “Guys came out and gave big contributions. It’s been hard, but you’ve got to take the positive with the negative. We’ve got a lot of basketball left in us.”

After his Wizards fell 128-122 in New York on Wednesday, interim coach Ed Tapscott discussed the importance of his players applying the lessons they learned from that defeat. The key, he said, would be to dictate the tempo and rebound better. In the first half, the Wizards didn’t allow the Knicks to lure them into the fast-paced, run-and-gun style that ultimately spells disaster for Washington.

Instead, the Wizards jogged the ball up the floor, set up their offense and patiently moved the ball around before finding the best possible scoring opportunity. The Wizards also hurried back on defense and prevented the Knicks from streaking up the floor and raining shots from the perimeter or scoring on easy layups. Washington limited New York to just 37 first-half points on 27.9 percent shooting.

Similar to how they opened Wednesday’s game, the Wizards got off to a solid start, going on a 14-3 run midway through the first quarter to take a 20-12 lead, and held a 31-25 advantage heading into the second quarter.

The Wizards remained in control in the second, paced by six points and seven rebounds from Andray Blatche, who finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, and five points apiece from Young and Jamison. The Wizards led 49-37 at halftime. New York struggled in the slower pace and made only three of 21 field goal attempts in the second quarter.

But for the Knicks, it was only a matter of time. They stormed out of halftime with an 18-5 run to take a 55-54 lead in the first four minutes of the second half. New York extended its lead to 67-58 with 2:53 left in the third before Washington mustered a burst to pull within 72-70 heading into the fourth.

“A team like that is going to get a rhythm,” Butler said. “They launch the ball up enough to establish some type of rhythm, and they’ve got real good players and play the right way, moving the ball. And if you continue to move the ball, you’re going to get shots. They’re professionals. But down the stretch, we got key stops.”

The win came as the Wizards prepared for a four-game West Coast trip that begins Monday in Oakland, Calif., against Golden State.

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