WASHINGTON (AP)—Last place in the NBA was on the line—literally—when three officials, huddled around a replay screen, ruled that the tiptoe of Francisco Garcia’s right shoe had barely grazed the 3-point arc.
The call: a 2-pointer. The Sacramento Kings guard, despite his earnest pleas to the contrary, had not tied the game with 3.8 seconds left. The Washington Wizards still had a one-point lead, and they added one more at the free throw line with 2.7 seconds remaining to claim a 106-104 victory Sunday night.
“It’s never happened to me before. Never,” Garcia said. “I always make sure at the end of the game my feet are behind the line, but they were right there and they know what they were doing and it was the right call.”
On a night when many were preoccupied with the NCAA tournament, the Wizards and Kings played a game that could be described as the NBA’s version of the NIT — with all due apologies to the NIT. Washington won without making a field goal in the game’s final 8 minutes, nearly blowing an 11-point, fourth-quarter lead.
Sacramento dropped to 0-26 against the Eastern Conference, staying 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. Washington’s 16-51 record remains only marginally better than the Kings’ 14-52.
“We didn’t do things right,” said Wizards forward Antawn Jamison, who scored 30 points. “But the most important thing is that we got a win, and I’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss.”
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 at the start of the not-very-anticipated duel, with tipoff taking place 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.
Of course, there was no way a game like this could have a tidy ending. Garcia was sure he had made his 3-pointer, but official Eli Roe immediately ruled otherwise, and the replay supported Roe’s call. Mike James then made the free throw that made the score 106-104. With one last chance to win or tie, Kevin Martin missed a final 3-point attempt from near the top of the key at the buzzer.
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. Hawes and Jamison were each whistled for a technical foul, and Sacramento was even called for a rare lane violation on a free throw.
Then came the suspenseful final minute that left the Kings still at the bottom of the NBA pile.
“We definitely don’t want to be labeled as the worst team,” Hawes said. “There is still a lot to play for. We still have a lot to prove.”
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. He will be re-evaluated Monday. 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.