Thomas’ ejection drives Bobcats to defeat

WASHINGTON (AP) — In January, the Washington Wizards were an NBA punch line. They lost 12 of their first 13 games, they fired their coach, and the players were disgruntled.

With two games left in the season, the Wizards still have the second-worst record in the NBA, but they’re no longer a joke. For the first time since Dec. 9-13, 2007, they have won four straight, and on Monday night, they toyed with the sad-sack Charlotte Bobcats handing them their 21st straight loss, 101-73.

The 73 points were the fewest they allowed since Jan. 11, 2006. The 28-point margin of victory equaled their largest this season.

They will also have some stability in their front office for next season.

Ernie Grunfeld and the Wizards have agreed to a contract that will keep him as team president, a person with knowledge of the deal said. The person spoke to The Associated Press on Monday night on condition of anonymity because no official announcement had been made. A news conference could happen as soon as Tuesday.

Grunfeld’s return was first reported by The Washington Post on its website. His contract had been due to expire at the end of this season.

John Wall had 16 points and 14 assists, Nene scored 18 points and Jan Vesely had 16 points on 8-for-8 shooting for the Wizards.

“In the middle of the season, we were still playing different ways and being selfish. We cleared things up, got some different guys here. Now, we’re playing as a team and we’re playing the best we played all season,” Wall said.

Last month, the Wizards traded center JaVale McGee and guard Nick Young and added Nene from Denver in a three-team deal. Even though he missed 10 games with a left foot injury, the Wizards are clearly better with the Brazilian center. Washington has won five of the nine games he has played, and haven’t lost by more than four points in any of the losses.

Nene rejected the notion that he’s the key to the team’s recent success.

“I’m not the key. Who’s the door if I’m the key?” he asked.

With a game at Cleveland on Wednesday and a final one against a Miami team likely to rest all its stars, it’s possible Washington could finish with 20 wins.

“I know we’re going to do much better next season. I can see that,” Nene said.

The Bobcats were competitive for most of the first quarter until Charlotte’s Tyrus Thomas was ejected with 3.6 seconds left for throwing an elbow at Washington’s James Singleton. He was assessed a flagrant 2 foul. Singleton made two free throws.

“We made contact. A basketball play happened,” Thomas said.

Singleton admitted to being shaken up.

“He connected. I don’t flop. It had me a little woozy for a second,” Singleton said.

It was part of a 16-0 run that gave the Wizards a 37-21 lead with just over 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter.

Washington shot nearly 63 percent from the field in the first half in taking a 63-39 lead.

The Wizards led by as much as 75-45 in the third quarter.

Gerald Henderson had 19 points for the Bobcats, while D.J. Augustin added 15.

If Charlotte (7-57) loses its final two games, they will finish with the worst winning percentage in NBA history. They play at Orlando on Wednesday before closing the regular season at home Thursday night against New York.

“We don’t want to be the worst team in NBA history. We know that in the back of our minds going into these next two games,” Augustin said.

In the first part of the season, the Bobcats had a better record than Washington. On Jan. 14, the Bobcats were 3-10 while the Wizards were 1-11.

In the last week, Washington has improved markedly beating Chicago, Milwaukee and Miami before they completed the sweep against Charlotte.

The Bobcats haven’t won since March 17.

“It’s been very, very hard for me because I’ve never been through this before,” Charlotte coach Paul Silas said before the game.

“The losing part kind of eats you up. I can’t sleep at night, wondering what we can do to change this thing around. I have to understand who we have, a lot of young people,” he said.

NOTES: Augustin returned after missing four games with tendinitis in his right knee. … Washington F Trevor Booker is still hoping to return from a left foot injury before the end of the season. He has missed 13 games. … The Wizards had 28 assists, tying their season high. … Vesely is the second Washington rookie to go 8-for-8 from the field. Mitchell Butler was the first on Jan. 13, 1994. … The Wizards beat the Bobcats all four times they met this season.