A round of trades in less than a week may have reduced the number of all-stars on the Wizards' roster, but Howard and the misfit replacements have raised the effort and energy level the past two games. They have also forced a once-drab home crowd -- which had grown accustomed to the malaise of this moribund season -- to suddenly show some emotion. The fans -- and even the boisterous players on the Wizards' bench -- had plenty to cheer about during a dramatic fourth-quarter flurry on one of the league's elite teams. Whether it was Howard kicking over beers, Nick Young drawing a charge on Nuggets all-star point guard Chauncey Billups, newcomer Al Thornton flustering NBA second-leading scorer Carmelo Anthony or James Singleton providing a vicious block on reserve J.R. Smith.
Yes, Denver was emotionally exhausted after Thursday's big win — and the ensuing postmidnight travel — but the Wizards (19-33) aren't exactly title contenders. Denver is. Yet the new-look Wizards (four key players were traded in the past week) scrapped all night, climbing out of a 13-point hole in the third quarter to snatch the lead in the fourth. Denver's record fell to 36-19. "At the end of the day, when it was winning time in the fourth quarter, they wanted it more than we did, and it was obvious," said Billups, who scored a game-high 28 points but had just two assists. "They got second- chance points, offensive rebounds, steals, beating us to the punch. Most of the time — in any games at any level — the team that's going to do that is going to win."
Against the Nuggets the Wizards had the proper response from the start and scored 28-points in the first quarter. Andray Blatche, coming off a career-high 33-points against the Timberwolves, scored the game’s first ten points and finished with 18-points and 11- rebounds. "Andray (Blatche) had a great first half and carried us in that half and when he picked up his fourth (foul) we went to the bench and those guys started playing well,Saunders said. "Even though we didn’t play Andray or JaVale (McGee) down the stretch those are the guys up on the bench cheering the whole time in the fourth quarter, we haven’t had that this year."
Thornton arrived at 2 a.m., watched the team's walkthrough and took a nap afterward. He then showed up and scored within his first 20 seconds on the court, tipping in a Mike Miller shot. He came off the bench and scored 21 points on 7 of 12 shooting. He also had five rebounds and four blocked shots. More impressively, he guarded Carmelo Anthony very well by himself, holding Anthony without a field goal in the fourth quarter. Anthony had just scored 40 points the night before in a head-to-head matchup with LeBron James the night before. Thornton refused to back down. Anthony drove on Thornton and tried to bull his way into the lane but Thornton grabbed the ball and was called for foul. Anthony shoved him in frustration and Thornton charged at Anthony before eventually walking away.
After getting played – badly – on consecutive savvy veteran moves by Billups (game-high 28 points) that threatened to undo Washington's comeback, Young stayed focused enough to draw a charge on the all-star point guard that clinched the contest with just under two minutes to play. "That was for Dominic [McGuire] right there," said Young, tallking about his traded teammate, one of only two locker room references to players who departed D.C. over the last seven days. "When you see guys out there playing hard, you can’t do nothing but join them."
For the second straight game the Wizards had 20+ assists, out-dishing the Nuggets 22-12 in this one. The key was the fourth quarter, when Washington outscored Denver 34-15 and took control of the game in the last 4 minutes. Denver was tired and Saunders used a bench lineup [Nick Young, Earl Boykins, Thornton, Singleton] and Josh Howard to finish off the Nuggets. Young bounced back for a nice game, scoring 12 points on 5 of 9 shooting and posting a +18 court ratio. He also played very nice on-the-ball defense, which is not unusual for him. When Young thinks about the game, he suffers, but when he's in a flow offensively and just playing man-to-man defense, he's usually pretty effective.
An effort like this, win or lose, is great to watch. However, it also elicits another emotion from me – anger. It makes you wonder why this team with Gilbert, Antawn, Caron, Brendan and DeShawn couldn’t play with this same type of effort. What could that team have accomplished if they truly played this hard? I got used to the other team winning all of the "hustle plays." Today, the Wizards won those plays. For much of this season the Wizards pretended to play defense, today they actually played some particularly when it counted most. Could you imagine a Wizards team that actually held Carmelo scoreless in the 4th quarter?!?!?