In a close race for a playoff spot, the Charlotte Bobcats needed a victory, and what could be better than facing the woebegone Washington Wizards?
Not so fast. Charlotte wasted a 20-point lead, fell behind by eight midway through the fourth quarter, Gerald Wallace missed a free throw that would have tied the game with 6.5 seconds left, and the eight-man Wizards beat the Bobcats 95-93 Wednesday night.
Wallace led Charlotte with 21 points and 11 rebounds, and his layup while getting fouled cut Charlotte's deficit to 94-93. But he failed to complete a three-point play, and Emeka Okafor and Boris Diaw grabbed offensive rebounds but missed the putback tries.
Washington's Antawn Jamison finally grabbed the ball, controlled it and was fouled. He made 1-of-2 at the line and finished with 27 points. Nick Young, one of only three Wizards reserves, added 23 points.
The biggest key to the outcome: Charlotte went only 19-for-30 at the foul line.
Washington came in with an NBA-high 56 losses, having dropped five consecutive games and 12 of its past 14. Here's what's at stake for the Wizards: Every defeat improves their odds of landing the top pick in June's draft; every victory improves their odds of avoiding the worst record in franchise history.
The Bobcats are eyeing much more meaningful goals: The most wins and first postseason appearance in franchise history. Charlotte entered the day two games behind Chicago for the eighth and final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference, and a half-game ahead of Milwaukee.
Plus, dealing with all manner of injuries, the Wizards trotted out the 16th starting lineup they've used this season. The only member of the Wizards' ideal lineup was Jamison, a two-time All-Star forward. Otherwise, it was Dominic McGuire at the other forward, Javaris Crittenton and Mike James at guard, and Andray Blatche at center.
Available off the bench: Young, JaVale McGee and Oleksiy Pecherov.
"I'm down to eight," Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott said before tipoff, and then he dubbed the players he had available "The Mighty Eight."
In addition to Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood, who have yet to play this season, and finished-for-the-season Etan Thomas and DeShawn Stevenson, the Wizards were without Caron Butler (hamstring), Darius Songaila (nerve problem in neck and shoulder) and Juan Dixon (strained Achilles' tendon).
Yet, somehow, Washington managed to avoid getting swept by Charlotte in the teams' four-game season series. Indeed, the Wizards improved to 1-14 against Southeast Division opponents, assuring they will not become the first club in league history go winless against its division, according to STATS LLC.
Charlotte led 55-35 in the second quarter, but Washington used a 15-2 run _ with 11 from Jamison and Young _ to get within 57-50 at halftime.
There wasn't a whole lot of defense to that point: Both teams shot better than 55 percent in the first half.
Washington kept chipping away, chipping away, until James' 3-pointer tied the game at 63-all midway through the third quarter. A couple of minutes later, Blatche's putback put Washington ahead 67-65.
And then, something really out of the ordinary happened: McGuire scored, ending a drought of nearly 2 hours of on-court action without a single point. His tip-in with 2:06 left in the third quarter extended the hosts' lead to 69-65.
When Young drove along the baseline for a reverse slam with a little more than 6 minutes remaining, it put Washington up 87-79.
Notes:@ Tapscott called Bobcats coach Larry Brown "one of the great teachers or coaches of our era." ... Arenas still is "on schedule" to make his season debut Saturday, at home against Detroit, Tapscott said. Arenas, sidelined after his third knee operation in 18 months, might be ready to play _ but he insists he's done posting on his blog. "I retired," he said. "No more blogging for me." ... Jamison's 11 points in the first quarter extended his streak of scoring at least 10 points to a career-best 68 consecutive games. His previous high of 67 came in 2000-01 with Golden State.
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