Wizards avoid unlucky loss No. 13

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Sports,NBA,Wizards,Craig Stouffer

That's quite enough of chasing dubious history, thank you very much. Already sitting on a franchise-worst start, the Wizards finally and gratefully emerged Wednesday with an 84-82 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers before a half-full Verizon Center.

They had to survive an epic fourth-quarter meltdown, the end of Nene's charmed presence and a nail-biting final minute to get there. They were also aided by a struggling opponent.

But after Emeka Okafor's two free throws with 39.1 seconds remaining put the Wizards ahead for good, the defense held fast one last time and even dealt with a nervy final moment.

"We just broke through the ice," Wittman said. "I've lived in Minnesota for 15-17 years, and that ice was about 4-5 feet deep, but it's broken through now."

The Wizards (1-12) were up 79-64 on a jumper from Jordan Crawford (team-high 19 points) with 8:53 left. But from there the Trail Blazers (6-9) went on a 16-0 run while Washington missed its next nine shots. Crawford ended the drought on a 3-pointer with 2:06 left to go back up 82-80, but that was answered immediately by LaMarcus Aldridge (17 points, seven rebounds).

Rookie point guard Damian Lillard (20 points) traveled after Nicolas Batum (20 points) missed a three pointer, but Nene (six points, six rebounds) was called for a charge on Lillard with a chance to put the game away.

J.J. Hickson (15 points, 19 rebounds) then missed a tough fall away, and Chris Singleton (eights points, five rebounds) corralled the ball with 0.5 seconds on the clock.

"We can't lose this one," Singleton said. "That's all I was thinking."

After a Wizards timeout, Wesley Matthews stole Trevor Ariza's lobbed inbounds pass and called timeout, giving the Blazers one last chance, but they threw the ball off the rim.

"Whenever you're having a tough time winning, things happen so I was prepared for something," said Okafor (six points, eight rebounds). "We've gotten close several times, and now that we've actually won, whatever oppressive force had been keeping us from winning has been lifted."

It showed in an otherwise solid outing from Ariza (14 points) and a double-double from Kevin Seraphin (10 points, 10 rebounds). The second unit helped carry the load in the first half. The starters then built the momentum after halftime before Crawford, Singleton, Nene and Martell Webster again came off the bench to pull away early in the fourth quarter.

It helped that the Blazers entered the night with the league's worst defense, allowing opponents to shoot 49 percent from the field. But it was the Wizards defense that was porous to start, allowing Portland to hit six of their first seven shots. Washington, meanwhile, missed five of its first seven shots but recovered and finished with their best defensive performance of the year, holding Portland to 34.9 percent from the field.

"We just basically came together, like we need turn this around for ourselves," Singleton said. "Not for anybody else, for ourselves. We don't want to go down in history as one of the worst teams ever."

Washington had been ridiculed mercilessly following a blowout loss to San Antonio two nights before, with former NBA great and TNT analyst Charles Barkley leading the charge with cries of the "Washington Generals."

But inside the Wizards locker room the players focused on what they could control. Wittman gave them the floor to talk prior to and during practice on Tuesday, and that carried over onto the main court. Ariza also said he hadn't turned on his TV or radio; Webster was avoiding ESPN.

"That's going to happen," Wittman said. "When you're 0-12, guys are going to make fun of you. That's our business. Nobody wants to be in that position. Those guys don't want to be in that position, but that's the nature of the business. When you get to this level, you've got to have some thick skin."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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Craig Stouffer

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner