- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 15, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - On a night when everyone was preoccupied with the NCAA tournament, the Washington Wizards and Sacramento Kings played a game best described as the NBA’s version of the NIT.

With the league’s worst record on the line, the Wizards kept the Kings in the cellar with a 106-104 victory, dropping Sacramento’s record against the Eastern Conference to 0-26.

Of course, there was no way a game of this magnitude could have a tidy ending. Francisco Garcia thought he had tied the game with a 3-pointer with 3.8 seconds remaining, but official Eli Roe saw the tiptoe of Garcia’s right shoe barely graze the 3-point line and immediately ruled the shot a 2-pointer. The call was upheld on video review, and the Wizards kept a 105-104 lead.

Mike James then made a free throw with 2.7 seconds to play to make the score 106-104. With one last chance to win or tie, Kevin Martin wasn’t able to square up to the basket and missed a final 3-point attempt from near the top of the key.

Antawn Jamison scored 30 points to lead the Wizards, whose 16-51 record remains only marginally better than the Kings’ 14-52. Sacramento remained on course to become the first NBA team to go winless against the other conference _ in the same season that the Wizards are closing in on becoming the first to go winless against its own division.

In other words, the matchup between lottery-bound teams was as much about pingpong balls as basketballs, except for buzz about the college game. There were empty seats aplenty at the Verizon Center for the far-from-glorious affair, and tipoff came just as the NCAA bracket was being announced. The seeds were displayed on the scoreboard in the second quarter, and former North Carolina star Jamison was asked about the Tar Heels’ placing during a halftime interview.

Andray Blatche added 16 points, and Darius Songaila 15 for the Wizards. Washington played without Caron Butler, who has a tight left hamstring and will have an MRI exam Monday.

Martin scored 24 points to lead the Kings, who were missing Bobby Jackson (broken left cheekbone) but welcomed back Beno Udrih (out six games with a sprained right foot).

If the crowd was distracted by the college hoops news during the first few minutes, that was too bad for the Wizards: The first quarter was their best of the season.

Washington made 11 of its first 12 shots and set a season high for points in a quarter with 37. The Wizards led by as many as 15 in the second quarter, and everyone was cheering when Juan Dixon threw a length-of-court pass to rookie center JaVale McGee, who somehow managed to score a basket off the backboard while being hugged and spun around by Rashad McCants in an obvious attempt to foul. McGee made the free throw for a three-point play.

But a Wizards lead is never a safe one. An 11-point halftime advantage had evaporated by the time Jason Thompson made two free throws with 1:43 to play in the third quarter, putting the Kings ahead 83-82.

That was the only Sacramento lead of the game. The Wizards went on a 15-3 run before the game got messy in the fourth quarter. The Kings’ Spencer Hawes and Jamison were each whistled for a technical foul, and Sacramento was even called for a rare lane violation on a free throw before the suspenseful final minute.

Notes:@ Jackson broke his cheekbone late in the 126-123 overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night and did not travel with the team. Udrih came off the bench for the first time this season and had 10 points and seven assists in 29 minutes. The starter at point guard was Garcia, which gave the Kings their 21st different starting lineup of the season: Garcia, Martin, Hawes, Thompson and Andres Nocioni. … The Wizards’ 66 first-half points equaled their highest-scoring half of the season. … The game was the second of six in a row against the East for the Kings. It was also the first in a four-game road trip.

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