- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2009

PHILADELPHIA | They got the usual All-Star-worthy performances from captains Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, and impressive showings from young contributors Dominic McGuire and Javaris Crittenton. If only the Washington Wizards could have gotten off to a better start. And if only they had a closer.

Familiar refrain, right?

On Friday night against Philadelphia, the Wizards experienced another case of deja vu. They fell behind early, spent the first half digging their way out of the hole, gave a valiant second-half performance - coming back from double digits to take a late third-quarter lead - but again fizzled down the stretch to fall 104-94 at Wachovia Center.

Andre Iguodala scored 10 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, and backup guard Louis Williams poured in 11 of his 14 points in the final period to help Philadelphia improve to 23-22.

Jamison, after posting 14 points and 11 rebounds in the first half, finished with 25 points and 15 rebounds, and Butler had 20 points, five assists and three rebounds. But in the fourth quarter, Washington (9-37) couldn’t muster an offensive explosion to answer Philadelphia’s.

“We’re running out of feet to shoot off, you know what I mean?” interim coach Ed Tapscott said. “We’ve got to get a better start, and we’ve got to share the ball more. It’s hard when you’re struggling, and guys get in who haven’t played much, and even for guys who get regular minutes. But we have got to share the ball more. We’re a much better team when we share the ball.”

The initial shot in the foot was a first quarter in which the Wizards made just seven of 20 shots while falling behind 32-17. But Jamison scored on consecutive trips down the court early in the second quarter and ignited the Wizards’ 12-0 run that made it 32-29. Marreese Speights ended the 76ers’ drought with a 17-foot jump shot.

For much of this season, the Wizards’ coaches and veteran players have begged and pleaded for the younger players to step up and contribute. On Friday night, second-year players McGuire and Crittenton did so.

McGuire posted a career-high 16 points while pulling down five rebounds and handing out three assists. Crittenton came off the bench to record a season-high 15 points and a career-high seven assists to go with four rebounds. The point guard did the most of his damage in the third quarter, fueling a 19-6 run that reached its peak when Washington took a 66-63 lead on Crittenton’s layup with 2:01 left in the third quarter.

But Philadelphia’s Royal Ivey responded with a 3-pointer to tie the score, and Elton Brand hit a fadeaway jumper to give his team the lead. Butler tied it with a pair of free throws, but the Sixers closed the quarter with a pair of 3-pointers - one more from Ivey and another from Williams at the horn sandwiched around two more free throws from Butler - to lead 74-70 heading into the fourth.

Then Iguodala and Williams went to work to lead the 76ers, who shot 68.8 percent in the quarter. The Wizards made just 10 of 22 shots in the fourth - including just one of six 3-point attempts.

“It’s been the same story all season for us,” McGuire said. “Royal Ivey hit some big shots in the third quarter, then Iguodala and Williams in the fourth. Those shots hurt. Just not executing. We’ve got to finish games. We had a chance to pull this one out.”

After missing the past 15 games with a pinched nerve in his back, Wizards guard DeShawn Stevenson logged 23 minutes but showed some rust. He scored just one point on 0-for-6 shooting but had four assists.

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