The Raptors were playing without all-star Chris Bosh but if there is a team in the league that won't feel sorry for a team in that situation, it's your Washington Wizards. Last night's 110-106 win here in snowy Toronto was quality all the way around. Antawn Jamison did much of the heavy lifting despite a lingering back problem (cross your fingers) but contributions came from all over the place.
Roger Mason Jr., the former Raptor, was hot in the first half as was Darius Songaila. Nick Young came up with 10 huge points in the fourth quarter and Andray Blatche made a string of clutch plays down the stretch, including an offensive rebound that turned into a pair of clutch free throws with 1:12 to play.
I wrote this in my gamer but the funny thing about that situation was that Eddie Jordan has been challenging Blatch in practice lately. On Thursday, he called the team together and then told Blatche to step the line and start shooting free throws. For every miss, he'd have to run a line drill. From what I saw, Andray was doing a lot of running.
"You're either going to be a great shooter or you're going to be in shape," Jordan said as Blatche ran by him Thursday.
DeShawn Stevenson: "He and (Assistant Coach) Wes Unseld (Jr.) got into in practice about the free throws the other day but he went out and shot like 50 free throws and tonight it paid off. He came through for us."
Jordan also received quality minutes out of Dominic McGuire. The Wiz won despite a 16-0 third quarter run by the Raptors (Jose Calderon was monster) and despite 22 turnovers, including one late in regulation that almost gave the game away.
In summary: that is how this team has to play to win games with Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler.
The victory pulled the Wizards three games behind Toronto and kept them 1 1/2 half games ahead of surging Philly, which has won 11 of 14.
Jamison: "We're not really thinking about the teams in front of us, it's those teams that are trying to catch us from the back like New Jersey and Philly that we want to be aware of. We have to keep winning games. Let's not those teams come from behind to catch us."
Here's the interesting thing about the way the playoff picture is shaping up: the fifth-place Raptors are looking at a first-round matchup with LeBron and the Cavaliers. I don' think they want that. Wouldn't Toronto be better served dropping to sixth so it can face Orlando?
The real challenge for the Raps now is figuring out how to manage a brutal schedule without Bosh, who is out indefinetly with a sore knee. They host Seattle Sunday but then go west to face the Lakers, Warriors, Nuggets, Kings and Jazz. Things could get very interesting if the Wizards and 76ers can keep winning games.
Tonight's homer against the Bobcats is one the Wizards have to get but Charlotte has won four straight. One key could be getting a handle on the suddenly surging Raymond Felton, who is ballin' since the team dumped Jeff McInnis. According to the AP, in five games since McInnis was been gone, Felton has scored 20 or more points three times with 45 assists and 13 turnovers. Noted Wizards killer Gerald Wallace will not play as he is still recovering from a concussion.
The good news is that Antonio Daniels should be fresh and plenty motivated after seeing limited action last night. Neither Daniels nor Brendan Haywood saw action in the fourth quarter and overtime as Jordan went with some funky lineups that included Mason, Young, McGuire and Blatche. I was watching Daniels and Haywood down the stretch and they weren't thrilled with it but Jordan's move paid off as Blatche matched up well with Andrea Bargnani while Mason and Young hit big shots from the guard spot.
Jamison, who also sat for a stretch of the third quarter while the Raptors made their run: "Some guys where over there frustrated but Coach had trust to put some guys in to create a different a pace or let us know that if we don't get the job done, we need to be on the bench but those youngs came in and did a good job for us."
And I know I've mentioned this before but it is games like last night's when the difference most NBA arenas and the VC is shocking. The fans here in this hockey crazed city were nuts during the second half of that game last night and didn't need piped in sound or goofy promotions to make noise. It was pure, honest to goodness enthusiasm. Or a whole lot of Molsons, whatever.
Calderon on the Toronto fans: "The fans are always with us and that's why we've won a lot of games this season because they've helped us come back."
Jordan on the Air Canada Centre, where the Wiz had lost four straight: "It's a great environment to play. This crowd gets into it man and you're really at a disadvantage if you don't have the confidence and the veteran poise to get through it."
In three years covering the Wizards, I've never heard an opposing coach or player said that about Verizon Center, which too often resembles the gym in Vegas during summer league. At the VC, the staff has to put up a Duke logo or picture of the Dallas Cowboys to get fans to make noise. Pathetic.
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