After spending a month thinking their All-Star forward would return any day, the Wizards have decided to go ahead and win without him. Sunday’s 101-84 victory was their fourth win in five games and their second over the Hornets in a week.
“At first, you’re kind of like hoping he’s there the next game and the next game after that,” said reserve guard Roger Mason. “But it comes to a point where you say: ‘This is who we are; this is what we’ve got right now.’ Guys have to step up, and the last few games we’ve done that.”
The Wizards were 2-9 in their first 11 games without Butler, whose hip injury last week was re-diagnosed from a strained hip flexor to a small labral tear. Now that they know their gritty teammate might not return soon, players have seized new roles, with Darius Songaila now in the starting lineup and rookies assured of more playing time.
A similar scenario played out when star point guard Gilbert Arenas had knee surgery early in the season. He has also yet to return, yet the Wizards who remain are only one game below .500.
“The way our roster has gone up and down in numbers—seven guys to practice with and nine guys to practice with—it’s been like that all year,” coach Eddie Jordan said. “And this team has stuck together.”
Carrying the load many nights is Antawn Jamison, who had 28 points and nine rebounds Sunday and started the 19-0 fourth-quarter run that broke open a one-point game. The score was 80-79 with 6:40 to play before Jamison made two free throws and a 3-pointer to start the 21-5 game-ending run.
“I haven’t been happy at all with my field goal percentage of late,” said Jamison, who made 10 of 20 shots Sunday. “I’ve been rushing things and not taking my time, and guys have stuck with me.”
Peja Stojakovic scored 17 points and Chris Paul had 16 to lead the Hornets, who had won two straight since a 95-92 home loss to Washington last Monday. Several New Orleans players were unhappy with a 31-17 disparity in free-throws attempted in Sunday’s game.
“They made more than we attempted,” said David West, who scored 14 points, “so you’re not going to win a game when it’s that lopsided in terms of free throws. I thought we took the ball hard to the basket. I thought we were aggressive. I thought we attacked.”
Their coach didn’t think so.
“That’s the problem, they think they can’t get beat by this team twice,” Byron Scott said. “And that’s why we got our butts kicked both times. That’s to be just point-blank with your guys. I just don’t know if these guys respected them enough.”
Rookie Oleksiy Pecherov hit back-to-back 3-pointers in an 8-2 run that gave the Wizards a 49-35 lead in the second quarter. The Wizards were up 53-40 at the half and 72-61 late in the third, but Paul’s fast-break layup started a 18-8 run that pulled the Hornets within one early in the fourth period.
But the Hornets didn’t score again until a 3-pointer by Rasual Butler in the final minute.
“They came down and hit two big 3s, and I guess we just put our heads down from there,” said Mike James, who scored 12 points for the Hornets off the bench. “We had a chance to still go and cut into the lead, but we stopped making plays.”
New Orleans’ Bonzi Wells returned after missing two games with a bruised Achilles’ tendon. … Wizards rookie Nick Young had a career-high six rebounds. … The Wizards swept the season series for the first time since the Washington Bullets won both meetings with the Charlotte Hornets in 1989-90. … Wizards coach Jordan, speaking pregame about his TV preferences: “I either watch basketball or the news—or Hannah Montana with my daughter.” … More comedy from Jordan postgame: Accompanied by his young son, the coach put a small stuffed dog on Antonio Daniels’ left shoulder while the guard was doing interviews in the locker room. “Class project,” Jordan said before taking a picture. Said Daniels: “It’s so hard to concentrate with a dog on my left shoulder.”