- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2009

— After laboring through a tumultuous journey during their 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 hosting Kings, the Wizards normally accustomed to withering in the clutch finally mustered some resiliency that allowed them to escape victoriously.

“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 got a little bit of everything necessary to overcome the Kings whether it was explosive scoring performances — like the season-high 33 points from Antawn Jamison, the 32 points from Butler, the 20 points from Andray Blatche — or the 47-31 rebounding advantage that was spear-headed by Dominic McGuire and his 12 boards, or the ball simply bouncing their way.

There were air-balled 3-pointers that floated past the rim but met another Wizards’ hand for easy tip-ins, and would-be Washington turnovers that ricocheted off Kings players’ hands and back into the Wizards’ possession for additional scoring opportunities. During a point late in the third quarter when Caron Butler incorrectly executed a play only to have the ball still bounce the Wizards’ way, resulting in Jamison scooping 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 him and then both shared another laugh.

The Wizards came out and from the start faced little defensive resistance from the Kings, and after holding a lead that fluctuated between two and six points the majority of the first quarter, Washington which made 58 percent of their 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 during a three-minute span during the first quarter, abused Sacramento’s Brad Miller while scoring 10 consecutive points for the Wizards on 5-for-5 shooting.

In the second quarter, after extending their lead to 42-29, the Wizards while playing a unit entirely made up of reserves hit a lull and allowed the Kings to pull within 47-40 with 3:42 left in the quarter. But an agitated and animated coach Ed Tapscott called a timeout, and put his starters back in and Washington regained a 10-point advantage, leading 54-44 at 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) once again took advantage of the Wizards’ second unit and whittled away at the lead in the fourth quarter. They finally pulled within seven points of the Wizards 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 back with a spurt that re-established the lead at seven or nine points.

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 re-took 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 ticks left on the clock.

Francisco Garcia knocked down a 3-pointer with three seconds left on the clock to claw his team within 108-107 of the Wizards. But Blatche, who was fouled intentionally 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 and 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, is making in his recovery process and could return to action within the next week. Stevenson, who received two epidural shots to alleviate the discomfort, which is caused by a disc in his back that is slightly off, was on the court before the game taking shots and looked pretty good. He said he felt pretty good wants to get a couple of practices under his belt and then hopes to return to action.

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