SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)—Though the Washington Wizards still can’t win in Sacramento, the experience and respect they earned in their latest trip were nearly as valuable as a victory.
Sacramento held off several second-half charges from the resilient Wizards, who showed no signs of exhaustion in their fourth road game in five nights. They caused an uneasy buzz in the crowd at one of the NBA’s toughest arenas for visitors—a place Washington hasn’t won in eight games since Dec. 16, 1996.
“They’re for real, and we know it,” said Kings center Brad Miller, who scored 19 points. “They’re aggressive, and they hustle. We had to match that, or they were going to sneak out of here with one.”
Though Sacramento hung on with its usual veteran poise, the Wizards made believers out of the Kings, who struggled to match their athleticism and smallish lineups.
With top reserve Bobby Jackson sidelined late in the first half with a sprained right wrist, Sacramento’s starters were forced to score 98 points while gutting out a victory.
“I think they’re probably the best team in the East at running the floor and playing with the (small lineup),” said Stojakovic, who scored 26 points. “They’re really tough to match up against. They’re for real.”
Chris Webber had 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Kings.
The Wizards have the next four days off before completing their five-game road trip at Minnesota on Sunday. Though they’re just 2-2 on the trip, they showed their early-season success isn’t a mirage with a win over the Los Angeles Lakers and competitive losses to Phoenix and Sacramento.
“We’re still learning how to play hard and at a high skill level consistently,” said Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, the Kings’ coach before Rick Adelman arrived. “Tonight was a good measure for us. It’s always an extremely good incentive to play a team with a good record. It’s a credit to our guys to play as well as we did.”
Gilbert Arenas scored 11 of his 22 points in the fourth, including five straight midway through the quarter to cut Sacramento’s lead to four points. The Kings responded with tough baskets from Webber and Brad Miller—and Webber clinched the win on a spinning dunk with 46.4 seconds left.
“We made some really poor decisions with the ball again,” Adelman said. “We had 17 turnovers. They do get in the passing lanes, but it was all us, and that really got them back in the game.”
One day after a gritty victory at Golden State, the Wizards showed off their enviable youth and athleticism in a loss. They entered the night with the Eastern Conference’s second-best record, but Sacramento is 50-2 at home against the East the last four seasons.
“We didn’t make it easy on them. We made them work,” Hughes said. “There were a couple of stretches where we could have gone away, but we didn’t.”
With Jackson out, seldom-used reserve Maurice Evans played eight minutes in the fourth quarter, highlighted by an alley-oop dunk on a pass from Bibby.
Webber skipped the Kings’ victory over lowly New Orleans on Sunday night to give his surgically repaired left knee a few extra days of rest. He appeared fresh against the Wizards, easily leaping for at least three dunks.
Sacramento made 70 percent of its shots in the first quarter, including Stojakovic’s running 3-pointer from a step behind the line at the buzzer. … Wizards G Anthony Peeler, who led the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage while with the Kings last season, had three points in nine minutes. … Jackson will be re-evaluated Wednesday, but Adelman said his injury “didn’t look good.” Sacramento has two more home games this week, including Thursday’s meeting with East-leading Miami.