Wizards 98, Pacers 97
Irene Pollin took the microphone at the end of the third quarter
and nervously addressed the crowd, thanking the fans and staff for
helping the Washington Wizards get through “a very, very tough
Standing next to her two sons, she then channeled the optimism
for which her late husband was known.
“Next year’s going to be better,” she said. “I promise you
A heartfelt guarantee, and one that won’t be hard to deliver.
It’s inconceivable that the Wizards could have a more trying season
than the one that ended Wednesday night with a 98-97 win over the
Longtime owner Abe Pollin died in November. Gilbert Arenas and
Javaris Crittenton brought guns into the locker room in December.
Franchise cornerstones Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan
Haywood were traded in February, and the biggest asset they
acquired – Josh Howard – promptly blew out his knee. Arenas is
serving 30 days in a halfway house, Crittenton is on probation, and
the laborious process of selling the team to Ted Leonsis still
hasn’t been completed.
The Wizards’ 25 starting lineups nearly matched the win total
(26) over 82 games and wasn’t much better than last year’s
19-victory campaign. Washington’s main hope lies in the fact that
only six players are under contract for next season, leaving plenty
of salary cap space to pursue free agents this summer.
“It’s maybe not what I signed up for originally when I came,”
said coach Flip Saunders, completing his first season with the
club. “But as all coaches, you love challenges. Through every
adversity, through every challenge there’s opportunity, and I feel
good where we’re at right now.”
One player who put up big numbers down the stretch was Andray
Blatche, who scored 26 points to lead the Wizards on Wednesday. The
winning basket was rookie Cedric Jackson’s 3-pointer with 1:31 to
play. The scoreboard didn’t budge the rest of the way, and Danny
Granger missed a 15-footer at the buzzer that would have given
Indiana the win.
Roy Hibbert scored a career-high 29 points for the Pacers, who
finished the season out of the playoffs with a win total in the 30s
for the fourth straight year. Their 32 victories is their fewest
since 1988-89, but the franchise has some young talent and is at
the end of the second year of a four-year rebuilding plan.
“Ultimately, even though we’re not playing for anything, I
wanted to go out playing strong and have a good last game,” said
Hibbert, who finally had a decent game as a pro in the arena where
he starred for four years with Georgetown. “Hopefully, the game I
had today can translate to good consistent games next year.”
Blatche had 13 points after just 8 minutes for the Wizards, who
led by as many as 11 in the first half. Hibbert was dominant in the
second quarter, scoring 12 points with help from frequent trips to
the free throw line.
Hibbert kept it up in the third quarter as the Pacers built a
14-point lead late in the period. The Wizards whittled away at the
deficit and trailed by one with 4 1/2 minutes to play, setting up
the close finish between a pair of lottery-bound teams.
“We think that we have put together some good young players,
led by Danny Granger, Brandon Rush and Roy Hibbert,” Indiana coach
Jim O’Brien said. “We’re going to get a healthy talent in (Tyler)
Hansbrough back. You put all those things together, there’s no
reason why we can’t take a nice full step forward next year.”
NOTES: Granger said he strained some abdominal muscles around
halftime, but it was nothing serious and was something that been
troubling him for a while. He shot just 4 for 16 from the floor.
“It’s something I’ve been dealing with, it comes and goes, but
it’s not the reason. I didn’t shoot it well,” Granger said. …
Jackson, who has been making his living on various 10-day
contracts, scored all of his career-high eight points in the final
5 1/2 minutes. “That little guard, I don’t even know his name,”
Granger said. “No. 9, down the stretch he was pretty good.” …
Washington’s Al Thornton passed the 3,000-point mark in the first
half, but he left the game early in the fourth quarter with a mild
concussion after getting hit in the face by Rush while driving to