- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2009

— After a tumultuous journey through the first 40 games of the season, the Washington Wizards officially reached the midway point of their season Wednesday night and did so on a positive note in the form of a 110-107 victory over the Sacramento Kings.

For the majority of the season, the Wizards (9-32) haven’t been able to catch a break. There have been injuries, growing pains, scoring droughts and missed opportunities. But for once, things seemed to go Washington’s way. And even when faced with a late-game charge by the host Kings, the Wizards — normally accustomed to withering in the clutch - finally mustered some resiliency.

“I think for so much of this season we’ve been on the short end of the stick, like there have been 14 games we’ve lost after leading [or tying] in the fourth quarter,” Wizards swingman Caron Butler said. “But tonight we found a way to win it in the clutch. And I don’t pay attention to stats much, but we saw [Sacramento] hasn’t beaten an Eastern Conference team all year, and we didn’t want it to be us.”

And so the Wizards used a little bit of everything to overcome the Kings, from explosive scoring performances — such as a season-high 33 points from Antawn Jamison, 32 from Butler and 20 from Andray Blatche — to a the 47-31 rebounding advantage spear-headed by Dominic McGuire and his 12 boards.

At other points, the ball simply bounced the Wizards’ way. There were air-balled 3-pointers that floated past the rim but resulted in easy tip-ins. Would-be Washington turnovers ricocheted off the hands of Kings players and back to the Wizards for additional scoring opportunities.

During one point late in the third quarter, for instance, Caron Butler incorrectly executed a play only to have Jamison scoop up the inadvertent pass and score to put Washington up 80-60. Butler winced at his error and then laughed. Wizards coach Ed Tapscott sidled up to Butler to correct, then both shared another laugh.

The Wizards faced little defensive resistance from the Kings from the start. After holding a lead of two to six points the majority of the first quarter, Washington - which made 58 percent of its shots — went on a 10-2 run to carry a 31-21 lead into the second.

Leading the way for the Wizards was Blatche, who abused Sacramento’s Brad Miller while scoring 10 consecutive points for the Wizards on 5-for-5 shooting in a three-minute span of the quarter.

After extending the lead to 42-29 in the second quarter, the Wizards hit a lull with a group of reserves in the game, allowing the Kings to pull within 47-40 with 3:42 left in the half. An agitated and animated Tapscott called a timeout and put his starters back in and Washington took a 54-44 lead into halftime.

Spurred by 13 third-quarter points apiece from Jamison and Butler, the Wizards continued to roll and saw their lead swell to 21 points in the third quarter.

The Kings (10-33) again took advantage of the Wizards’ second unit and whittled away at the lead in the fourth quarter. They finally pulled within seven points with roughly seven minutes left in the game. But Jamison posted up on Miller, caught a pass from McGuire, spun and drove baseline for a one-handed jam to put Washington up 98-89 and force a Sacramento timeout.

At three different points during the final stretch of the game, the Kings managed to narrow the gap to five only to see the Wizards answer with a spurt that re-established the lead at seven or nine.

And then, in an all too familiar refrain, the Wizards experienced a fourth-quarter fizzle.

Sacramento, which outscored Washington 37-21 in the fourth quarter, cut the deficit to 104-99 on a pair of free throws by John Salmons, then pulled within a basket on a 3-pointer from Beno Udrih with 43.3 seconds left to prompt a Washington timeout.

The Wizards came out of the huddle and tried to inbound the ball but because of the Kings’ swarming defense had to burn another timeout. But when they retook the floor the second time, the Wizards got the ball in the hands of Jamison, who drove on Sacramento’s Shelden Williams and scored on an acrobatic shot to push the lead back to 106-102 with 24 seconds left.

Francisco Garcia knocked down a 3-pointer with three seconds remaining to put his team within 108-107. But Blatche, who was fouled to stop the clock, made both foul shots to extend the lead to three.

Garcia launched another 3-pointer with time running out, but it fell short. Butler secured the ball as the horn sounded, and Washington escaped victoriously.

“I think they like to tease me,” Tapscott said. “They like drama, and they have to make it interesting. But I told them you have to give Sacramento credit for making that run and wins on the road don’t have to be pretty or elegant. They just have to be wins.”

Note Guard DeShawn Stevenson, who has been out since Dec. 30 - missing 11 games — with a pinched nerve in his back, could return to action within the next week. Stevenson has received two epidural shots to alleviate the discomfort, which is caused by a disc in his back that is slightly off. He was on the court before the game and said he felt pretty good but wants to get in a couple of practices before returning.

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