WASHINGTON (AP) -The sellout crowd at the Gilbert Arenas-free Verizon Center gave the Washington Wizards a most improbable series of fourth-quarter standing ovations.
Their last-place team was rallying from 10 points down to beat a first-place team. And on a day in which some players were fined and others were dealing with legal issues; when all things having to do with their marquee player disappeared from the arena; and after Antawn Jamison took the microphone before the game and said things were ``very embarrassing.'
Washington coach Flip Saunders even admitted the distractions had become so great that his team was almost in ``a foggy-type situation.'
Nevertheless, the Washington Wizards beat the Orlando Magic 104-97 Friday night, exciting even the typically subdued fans in the nation's capital.
``It shows that the people haven't given up on the team,' Saunders said, ``and it shows the team hasn't given up on themselves.'
Jamison had 28 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Wizards in the team's first home game since Arenas was suspended indefinitely by the NBA. The three-time All-Star is being investigated by federal and local authorities for bringing guns to the Verizon Center and related incidents.
The team removed nearly all traces of their star guard from the arena, taking Arenas-related merchandise out of stores and editing him out of the pregame video shown on the scoreboard. Randy Foye, Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young were fined $10,000 each by the team for joining in the frivolity when Arenas pointed his index fingers at teammates as if he were firing a pair of guns during an on-court huddle before Tuesday night's game at Philadelphia.
``It's kind of like a circus every day,' said DeShawn Stevenson, who met with his lawyer Friday in preparation for testifying before the grand jury investigating Arenas, ``but at the same time it's our jobs and we need to take it seriously.'
Dwight Howard had 23 points and 11 rebounds for the struggling Magic, who shot 43 percent and have lost four straight for the first time since February 2007. All four of the losses have come against sub-.500 teams.
``It gets worse. It's terrible,' coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``We didn't have one guy on the floor that could make a shot.'
Orlando played most of the game without guard Vince Carter, who injured his left shoulder in a collision in the second quarter and did not return. Neither Van Gundy nor Carter would comment on the injury.
The Wizards trailed 81-71 with 10:39 remaining when Jamison and Mike Miller hit 3-pointers to start a 23-5 run. The crowd came to life with its first standing ovation after a sequence in which Caron Butler stuffed Howard and Blatche fought hard for an offensive rebound at the other end.
The Wizards had lost five of their previous six, including their first game without Arenas. Saunders used his 15th starting lineup of the season, with Foye taking Arenas' point guard spot and Miller returning at small forward - with a buzz cut instead of a ponytail - in his first game since straining his right calf on Nov. 21.
NOTES: Foye finished with a season-high 20 points. He left the game briefly to get four stitches after getting hit in the mouth in the first half. ... Saunders and Jamison both received technicals for arguing when officials overturned a goaltending call on Howard in the first quarter. ... Orlando's Rashard Lewis and Brandon Bass received technicals in the fourth quarter. Lewis fouled out with 3:31 to play.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved