Wizards cap tough week with 96-86 win over Kings
AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – At the end of one of the toughest, most exhausting weeks in franchise history, the Washington Wizards needed a few smiles. And a win. And a nice ovation. And a milestone moment for the coach – just as an added bonus.
The Wizards beat the Sacramento Kings 96-86 on Saturday night, one day after their biggest star pleaded guilty to a felony gun charge and less than 24 hours after a deflating, double-overtime loss at Chicago.
The victory broke a four-losing streak and gave coach Flip Saunders his 600th career win, usually a significant moment that will end up merely as a footnote in an otherwise tumultuous season.
“I’ll be honest, I don’t know if any of us have had a chance to think about that with all the stuff of the last three weeks,” said Saunders, who is 600-422 over 14 seasons with Minnesota, Detroit and Washington. “These whole three weeks have been kind of more of a surreal situation.”
Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, who both played more than 55 minutes the night before, scored 12 points in a game-ending 13-4 run, closing out a contest that neither team led by more than eight until Butler’s 3-pointer at the final horn. Butler finished with 19 points, and Jamison had 14, leading five players in double figures.
“Everybody was exhausted,” point guard Randy Foye said. “After playing last night, flying, getting in late, then an hour ride home, and then you get home you can’t go to sleep because you still have the adrenaline rushing through your body. But this is a gutsy win for our team. It just shows the type of people we have on this team, the type of men we have on this team.”
Kevin Martin scored 23 points on 6-for-17 shooting, and Tyreke Evans scored 21 for the Kings, who shot 37 percent to lose their third straight and eighth in nine games. Martin was playing his second game after missing 32 with a wrist injury.
“We just need to close out games in the fourth quarter,” Evans said. “Crunch time is when good teams step up. We just kind of fall back and play how we’ve been playing the whole game instead of playing harder.”
Make no mistake, these were two tired, struggling teams. Both started the day having lost nine of 11, and both had quick turnarounds after playing the night before. Sacramento was in the second game of six-game road trip, while Washington was wrapping up a stretch of four games in five nights that happened to fall during one of toughest periods a team can imagine.
Friday’s guilty plea by Gilbert Arenas, the face of the franchise for much of a decade, was the culmination of weeks of distractions for the players, some of whom had to miss practice to be questioned by authorities.
Even though Arenas is out of sight – indefinitely suspended by the NBA – Saunders pointed out that the saga isn’t over, in part because Arenas won’t be sentenced until March 26 and a final decision on the length of his suspension has yet to be handed down by the league office.
Still, it appears very unlikely Arenas will play for the Wizards again this season, and the team is trying to hang in there without him. After using a short rotation in recent games, Saunders had no choice Saturday but to go to his reserves early and often, giving players such as JaVale McGee and Dominic McGuire more minutes than usual.
“Those guys in there have been hurting,” Saunders said. “With the losses they hurt. With the situation, they hurt. And they want to do well. They want to represent the city in a positive way.”
NOTES: It seemed only fitting that the player with the most energy at the opening tip was a rookie. Evans had a hand in Sacramento’s first five baskets, with two assists and three field goals. … The game opened a six-game homestand for the Wizards. With the wear and tear of a cramped week plus the Arenas saga, Saunders is giving the players Sunday off – even though they play again Monday in a holiday matinee.