Each NBA Franchise's Most Important Win in 2012-13

Paul Knepper@@paulieknepContributor IIIDecember 10, 2012

Each NBA Franchise's Most Important Win in 2012-13

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    Throughout the NBA season players and coaches regurgitate the cliché that they approach each game the same and no one opponent, win or lose, is more important than the next. The reality is that a win over a certain team or under the right set of circumstances can change the course of a team's season.

    A victory over an elite team or to end a losing streak can instill a team with confidence and create momentum heading into future games. A win under adversity or when a star player is hurt may unify a team.

    A successful style of play or the emergence of a seldom used player during a win may alter a coach's game plans or substitution patterns. In some cases a specific win can be the difference between a coach being fired or keeping his job.

    Here is a look at each NBA franchise's most important win so far in the 2012-2013 season.

Atlanta Hawks

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    Most Important Win: 104-95 at Oklahoma City Thunder on November 4

    The Hawks entered this season as a team searching for an identity after new general manager Danny Ferry revamped the roster over the offseason. They found it during the second game of the season against the defending Western Conference champions.

    Defense is this team's calling card. The Hawks held the league's highest-scoring team—106.2 points per game—to 95 points. That defensive intensity has propelled the Hawks to a 12-5 record. They have held opponents to 93.6 points per game, tied for fifth best in the NBA.

    Al Horford led the way with 23 points and 12 rebounds, and new acquisition Lou Williams fit nicely into the offensive scheme. The former Philadelphia 76er scored 10 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter to help the Hawks pull away.

Boston Celtics

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    Most Important Win: 92-79 vs. Philadelphia 76ers on December 8

    The Boston Celtics' success over the past five years has been predicated on suffocating team defense, but they have come under fire from the media early this season for their lackluster effort on that end of the floor. According to Hoopdata.com, Boston's defensive efficiency is a mediocre 101.7, just 14th in the NBA.

    On Saturday night, December 8, the second night of a home-and-home matchup with the rival Philadelphia 76ers, Doc Rivers' squad looked like the Celtics of old, rotating to the open man and contesting every shot. Anchored by Kevin Garnett in the middle, Boston held Philly to 79 on 39 percent shooting.

    The spirited effort may represent a turning point for the Celtics, who got off to a similarly slow start last season.

Brooklyn Nets

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    Most Important Win: 96-89 in overtime vs. New York Knicks on November 26

    The Nets underwent a complete makeover this summer, relocating to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and adopting new colors and logos. As New York City's newest team, the Nets will inevitably be compared to the New York Knicks.

    The early success of both teams has intensified the budding rivalry between the two teams. So when the Knicks came to Brooklyn for the first time, the Nets and their crowd had something to prove.

    Brooklyn was the more physical team that night, and their defensive pressure eventually wore down the Knicks in overtime. They managed to do so with subpar performances by their all-star backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. Williams scored 16 points on 6-of-17 shooting and Johnson shot just 3-of-12 from the field.

    The win pulled the Nets into a first-place tie with the Knicks in the Atlantic Division and established the Barclays Center as a legitimate home-court advantage. While there were plenty of Knicks fans in attendance, their cheers were drowned out by the "Brooklyn" chants of a predominantly Nets crowd.

Charlotte Bobcats

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    Most Important Win: 90-89 vs. Indiana Pacers on November 2

    Charlotte ended last season with 23 consecutive losses to finish with a 7-59 record and the lowest winning percentage—.106—in NBA history. By winning on opening night against a very good Pacers team, Charlotte put the stench of that dreadful 2011-12 campaign behind them.

    New coach Mike Dunlap introduced a defense-first approach in training camp. He encouraged the maturation of some of the team's young players, most notably Kemba Walker, a first-round pick in the 2011 draft, who dropped a career-high 30 points on the Pacers.

    As of December 10, the Bobcats are riding a seven-game losing streak, though they have been much more competitive this season, as reflected by their 7-12 record.

Chicago Bulls

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    Most Important Win: 93-85 vs. New York Knicks on December 8

    The Knicks came into the United Center riding high two nights after blowing out the defending champion Miami Heat 112-92 in Miami. Despite playing their fourth game in five nights, Chicago was up for the challenge.

    Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau learned from Miami's mistakes and devised a game plan to limit the Knicks' three-point shots. The Bulls crowded the Knicks' shooters and held New York to eight three-point baskets, compared to the 18 they buried against the Heat and a season-low 85 points on 32 percent shooting.

    The win was all the more impressive because the Bulls were without two of their key players for much of the game. Starting point guard Kirk Hinrich did not play in the second half because of an elbow injury and forward Taj Gibson was ejected in the first half.

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Most Important Win: 108-101 at Los Angeles Clippers on November 5

    It has been a disappointing season for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who at 4-17 are in last place in the Central Division as of December 10, though one bright spot was an exciting victory over a deep and talented Clippers team in Los Angeles.

    Cleveland's backcourt of the future, point guard Kyrie Irving and shooting guard Dion Waiters—20 and 21 years old respectively—provided plenty of reason for Cavs fans to be excited about the team's future. The two combined for 52 points and Irving added 10 assists.

    Unfortunately, Irving went down with an injured finger a couple of weeks later, so the two young guards have not had much opportunity to build on their performance in L.A. Along with 2011 first-round pick Tristan Thompson and rookie Tyler Zeller, Irving and Waiters form a solid young nucleus for Cleveland to build around.

Dallas Mavericks

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    Most Important Win: 116-109 vs. Houston Rockets on December 8

    The short-handed Mavericks pulled out a gutsy victory over an inspired Rockets team Saturday night December 8 in Dallas. Houston coach Kevin McHale was on the sidelines for the first time since the death of his daughter on November 24.

    The Mavs were without their star, Dirk Nowitzki, who, according to sportsillustrated.com, will be sidelined at least through December after undergoing knee surgery in October, and Shawn Marion, who was recovering from a strained groin. Starting center Chris Kaman was also limited to just 19 minutes after spraining his ankle two nights earlier.

    O.J. Mayo continued to establish himself as a go-to guy in Dirk's absence. The former Grizzly out-dueled Houston's James Harden 40-39.

    The win over their cross-state rival could prove to be crucial down the road, as the two teams could be fighting for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Denver Nuggets

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    Most Important Win: 97-92 at Memphis Grizzlies on November 19

    The Denver Nuggets struggled out of the gate after entering the season with lofty expectations, winning only four of their first 10 games. Their sluggish start was due in part to the poor shooting of their leading scorer, Danilo Gallinari. Gallo was shooting a paltry 34 percent from the field and 21 percent from downtown.

    The Italian forward found his stroke in Memphis. He connected on 7-of-15 shots for 25 points and nailed a three-pointer with 13 seconds left to seal the victory.

    The win snapped Memphis's eight-game win-streak and ended a three-game skid for the Nuggets. Gallo, whose ability to spread the floor is crucial to Denver's attack, has been shooting with more confidence ever since, and the Nuggets have been playing closer to preseason expectations.

Detroit Pistons

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    Most Important Win: 94-76 at Philadelphia 76ers on November 14

    Never mind that the usually feisty 76ers appeared lethargic throughout the contest. The Pistons got their first win of the season after eight consecutive losses in what amounted to the worst start in franchise history.

    Greg Monroe led the way with 19 points, 18 rebounds and six assists. Kyle Singler chipped in 16 points in his first career start, and Tayshaun Prince and Brandon Knight added 15 apiece.

    Lawrence Frank's team has played significantly better since getting that first win under their belt. As of December 10, they had gone 7-7 since their 0-8 start.

Golden State Warriors

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    Most Important Win: 106-105 vs. Denver Nuggets on November 29

    Andrew Bogut was supposed to be the anchor for a more defense-oriented Golden State team this season after recovering from what was believed to be routine ankle surgery in April. In late November the team revealed that Bogut actually underwent microfracture surgery and would be out longer than expected.

    It would have been understandable if the Warriors were deflated by the news. Instead, they put forth an inspired effort a couple of nights later against a tough Nuggets team. The hard-fought one-point victory set the tone for the rest of the season. With or without Bogut, Golden State was a team to be reckoned with.

    David Lee scored 31 points on 13-of-15 shooting and added nine boards. Stephen Curry contributed 20 points, 10 assists and four steals, and Jarret Jack provided a spark with 18 points off the bench.

Houston Rockets

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    Most Important Win: 107-105 vs. Los Angeles Lakers on December 4

    The Houston Rockets invested a lot of money in their starting lineup over the past few months, signing restricted free agents Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik to lucrative deals and doling out a maximum contract to James Harden upon acquiring him from Oklahoma City.

    Houston's bench, on the other hand, is comprised of low-priced journeymen and youngsters. Those unheralded bench players are going to have to provide coach Kevin McHale with productive minutes in order for the Rockets to make the playoffs.

    That did just that against the Lakers on December 4, outscoring the Lakers bench 59-20. Center Greg Smith scored a career-high 21 points to go with nine rebounds and two blocked shots. Toney Douglas poured in a season-high 22 points and played down the stretch over Jeremy Lin, and wingman Carlos Delfino added 15.

Indiana Pacers

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    Most Important Win: 79-77 at Los Angeles Lakers on November 27

    The Pacers headed into the Staples Center with a 6-8 record. It was the first game of a four-game road trip for an Indiana team that had won just two of their eight road games.

    Point guard George Hill jump-started the Pacers season when he sank a high-arching bank shot over Dwight Howard's outstretched arm with .1 seconds remaining.

    Indiana did not play particularly well that night. They were the beneficiaries of 23-of-43 shooting from the foul line by the Lakers. But the win gave the Pacers confidence and set them back on the right course.

    They won three of four games on the road trip, and as of December 10, are within two games of the Chicago Bulls for first place in the Central Division.

Los Angeles Clippers

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    Most Important Win: 101-95 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves on November 28

    Chauncey Billups returned to the Clippers lineup on November 28 after missing nearly 10 months due to a torn left Achilles tendon. Billups scored seven points and dished out three assists in 19 minutes of action.

    More importantly, the 16-year veteran provided a spark for a Clippers team that had lost their four previous games. L.A. has won all six of their games since Billups' long-awaited return.

    Unfortunately, "Mr. Big Shot" played just three games before being sidelined with an inflamed tendon in his foot. Sportsillustrated.com reported that he is out indefinitely.

Los Angeles Lakers

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    Most Important Win: 95-90 vs. Brooklyn Nets on November 20

    It has been a disastrous start to the 2012-13 season for a Los Angeles Lakers team that expected to be contending for an NBA title. Coach Mike Brown was fired after five games, point guard Steve Nash has been sidelined with a fractured leg and the team has struggled to develop any cohesion under new coach Mike D'Antoni.

    Just two of the Lakers' nine wins as of December 10 had come against teams with winning records. One of those teams was the Brooklyn Nets, who the Lakers beat by five on the night of D'Antoni's Lakers debut.

    Kobe Bryant was the leading scorer with 25 points, and Dwight Howard added 23 points and 15 rebounds, but the most telling stat line of the night came from Pau Gasol. The Spaniard contributed 17 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.

    Since then, Gasol has struggled to incorporate into D'Antoni's system, which calls on the power forward to spend more time on the perimeter. Pau's name has come up in trade rumors, but the Lakers are not likely to receive equal value in return for the future Hall of Famer. D'Antoni needs to look to the win over the Nets to figure out how to use Gasol most effectively.

Memphis Grizzlies

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    Most Important Win: 107-97 at Oklahoma City Thunder on November 14

    In what may have been a preview of the Western Conference Finals, this early-season slugfest between the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder had the feel of a playoff to it.

    The game got testy in the second half when Marc Gasol received a technical for raking the ball across Russell Westbrook's face after a made basket. Then in the fourth quarter, Zach Randolph and Kendrick Perkins got into a physical altercation when Westbrook was at the foul line.

    The Grizzlies ultimately prevailed behind 28 points from Rudy Gay. The win came just days after Memphis toppled the Miami Heat, putting them in the conversation with the Spurs and Thunder as the elite teams in the Western Conference.

Miami Heat

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    Most Important Win: 102-89 vs. Brooklyn Nets on December 1

    LeBron and company appear to be sleepwalking through the early portion of the season, yet have still amassed a 13-5 record as of December 10. Heat fans need not be concerned about their team's lethargic play. Miami will recover from its championship hangover in time for the playoffs.

    Dwyane Wade's diminished play is another story. The Heat guard has not regained his explosiveness after offseason knee surgery, and his 19.8 scoring average is the lowest since his rookie season.

    Miami will need Wade at full strength come playoff time if they are going to repeat as champions. His 34-point breakout performance against the Nets was a very encouraging sign. As the season progresses, D-Wade must show that he can perform at or near that level on a consistent basis.

Milwaukee Bucks

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    Most Important Win: 97-88 at Brooklyn Nets on December 9

    Spurred by bench players like Ekpe Udoh and Doron Lamb, the Milwaukee Bucks overcame a 27-point deficit late in the third quarter to beat the Chicago Bulls on November 26. While the comeback was inspiring, it was also an aberration.

    This Bucks team will only go as far as their backcourt tandem of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis carries them. Plenty of basketball insiders are skeptical as to whether the two undersized, shoot-first guards can coexist.

    That's why it was so important to see Jennings and Ellis go off in the same game against the Nets' all-star backcourt of Joe Johnson and Deron Williams. Jennings and Ellis combined for 50 points, 12 assists and eight steals. With that kind of joint effort, Scott Skiles' team could be dangerous come playoff time.

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Most Important Win: 92-80 vs. Sacramento Kings on November 2

    The Minnesota Timberwolves entered the season without their two best players. Ricky Rubio is still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in March, and Kevin Love was sidelined for the first three weeks of the season after breaking his hand in training.

    It was incumbent upon the rest of the team to keep the them in contention until their star players returned, and they did just that, compiling a 5-4 record without Love and Rubio. Minnesota won with excellent defense, beginning opening night against the Sacramento Kings.

    The T-Wolves held Sacramento to 80 points on 36 percent shooting from the field. J.J. Barea led the way for Minnesota with 21 points, and six other Timberwolves scored at least nine points.

New Orleans Hornets

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    Most Important Win: 89-82 at Chicago Bulls on November 3

    The New Orleans Hornets traveled to Chicago without their two marquee players, Eric Gordon—who, according to CBSsports.com, is still out indefinitely with a knee injury—and first pick in the draft Anthony Davis, who had been elbowed in the head during the previous game.

    The young team came together in the absence of their star players and managed to grind out an 89-82 victory over a battle-tested Bulls squad. Point guard Greivis Vasquez was on top of his game, dropping 18 points and doling out six assists.

    Robin Lopez and Jason Smith each contributed 16 points, and Ryan Anderson scored 12 points and snagged 13 rebounds.

New York Knicks

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    Most Important Win: 104-84 vs. Miami Heat on November 2

    The New York Knicks made a statement on opening night that they are a different team this season and are prepared to challenge the Miami Heat for supremacy in the Eastern Conference. They took it to the defending champions with a hard-nosed, unselfish brand of basketball that had not been seen in Madison Square for some time.

    New York took their cue from Carmelo Anthony, who contributed in all facets of the game. In addition to his 30 points, Melo grabbed 10 rebounds and hounded LeBron James on the defensive end. On one play, Anthony noticeably failed to apologize to James after whacking his good friend in the face.

    Melo and the Knicks have continued to play with that intensity through the first quarter of the season. As of December 10, they have the best record in the Eastern Conference at 15-5.

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Most Important Win: 117-111 vs. Los Angeles Clippers on November 21

    The Oklahoma City Thunder have steamrolled the majority of the league this season, winning 17 of their first 21 games, though they lost their first two contests against serious threats to their spot atop the Western Conference. They lost to the San Antonio Spurs 86-84 on opening night and fell to the Memphis Grizzlies 107-97 on November 14.

    Their matchup against the Clippers in late November was an opportunity for the Thunder to reassert their supremacy out west. L.A. took OKC to overtime, but the Thunder ultimately prevailed 117-111.

    Kevin Durant played the role of superstar, exploding for 35 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals. Now OKC anxiously awaits a rematch with the Grizzlies and Spurs.  

Orlando Magic

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    Most Important Win: 113-103 at Los Angles Lakers on December 2

    The Orlando Magic players tried to play it off as just another game, but it had to be satisfying for them to beat Dwight Howard and his new team. It would have been impossible for the veteran Magic players not to take Howard's departure personally.

    Nelson responded with his best game of the season—19 points and 13 assists. Glen "Big Baby" Davis turned in 23 points and 12 rebounds ,and shooting guard Arron Afflalo scored a season-high 30 points. Howard scored 21 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.

    The win also brought an end to a three-game losing streak for the Magic.

Philadelphia 76ers

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    Most Important Win: 95-94 in overtime vs. the Boston Celtics on December 7

    The Philadelphia 76ers expected big things from Evan Turner when they selected him second overall in the 2010 draft. Turner was inconsistent during his first two seasons in the league and had not been the go-to player the 76ers were hoping for.

    Management opened a spot in the starting lineup for Turner this summer when they traded Andre Iguodala to Denver. With center Andrew Bynum watching in street clothes, there is greater pressure on Turner to fulfill his promise.

    Turner was slumping heading into the Sixers' game against the Celtics on December 7, but he rebounded in a big way against Philly's divisional rival with 26 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Despite missing his first four shots in overtime, Turner nailed the game-winner, a pull-up jumper from about 12 feet, with four seconds remaining.

    The 76ers will need more clutch performances from their young forward in order to compete for the Atlantic Division title.

Phoenix Suns

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    Most Important Win: 107-105 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers on November 9

    The Phoenix Suns trailed the Cleveland Cavaliers by 26 just 14 minutes into the game, but they refused to give up. The Suns clawed their way back into the game and ultimately eked out a two-point win.

    Shannon Brown scored 12 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter and keyed a 14-4 Suns run to close out the game. Point guard Goran Dragic had a team-high 26 points.

    The victory demonstrated the character of the Suns players and was a crowning achievement for a team that will not be in playoff contention this season.  

Portland Trail Blazers

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    Most Important Win: 118-117 in double overtime at Cleveland Cavaliers on December 1

    It was been another disappointing season for one of the league's most passionate fanbases. The Portland Trail Blazers are sitting at 8-12 as of December 10.

    The Blazers looked listless while losing four consecutive games at the end of November. December started on a better note when Nicolas Batum sank the Cleveland Cavaliers on a three-pointer from the corner with .2 seconds remaining in double overtime.

    "Breaking the losing streak was really important, because losing can take its toll mentally, and I liked the way we played all night," said Portland coach Terry Stotts (as reported by Espn.com). The Blazers followed it up with another overtime win in Charlotte two nights later.

Sacramento Kings

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    Most Important Win: 99-80 at Portland Trail Blazers on December 8

    Sacramento was 0-6 on the road before taking to the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden on Saturday, December 8. John Salmons turned in a stellar performance, delivering 19 points and 11 assists, and big man DeMarcus Cousins contributed 19 points and 12 boards.

    The victory marked the Kings first three-game winning streak of the season and was all the more impressive because they were without the services of their second-leading scorer Tyreke Evans. The fourth-year guard missed his fourth game with a sore left knee.

San Antonio Spurs

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    Most Important Wins: 86-84 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

    The Oklahoma City Thunder stunned San Antonio by winning four consecutive games against the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. The Spurs had an opportunity to exact a bit of revenge during the second game of the season, and they took full advantage of it.

    Tony Parker hit a three to tie the game 28.4 seconds remaining, and on the Spurs' next possession the French point guard nailed a 21-footer over the outstretched arm of the league's leading shot-blocker Serge Ibaka as time expired.

    Parker let out a primal scream as the final shot fell through the basket, and his typically reserved teammates mobbed him on the court. The aging Spurs put the Thunder and the rest of the league on notice that they are not going anywhere.

Toronto Raptors

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    Most Important Win: 74-72 at Indiana Pacers on November 13

    Every NBA team goes through a particular tiring stretch in their schedule. For the Toronto Raptors, it occurred early in the season.

    Toronto arrived in Indiana at 3 a.m. on the morning of their game against the Pacers after losing to the Utah Jazz the previous night. It was their third back-to-back of the young season, and the Raptors were exhausted.

    The Raptors were also without starters Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields. They ran out of gas as the game progressed and managed just five points in the final quarter but were able to hold on for the two-point victory.

Utah Jazz

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    Most Important Win: 117-110 at Los Angeles Lakers on December 9

    The Jazz executed their brand of basketball against the Lakers at the Staples Center on December 9, utilizing their size on the interior to play inside-out basketball. Utah dominated Dwight Howard and the Lakers down low, outscoring Mike D'Antoni's team 54-34 in the paint.

    Paul Millsap led the Jazz with 24 points. Big Al Jefferson had a double-double with 14 points and 11 boards, and fellow big man Enes Kanter added 14 points of his own. Utah's success inside created open shots on the perimeter and the Jazz connected on 54 percent of their field-goal attempts.

    The win was particularly significant given Utah's struggles on the road this season. They had been 3-9 away from Energy Solutions Arena prior to beating the Lakers in L.A.

Washington Wizards

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    Most Important Win: 84-82 vs. Portland Trail Blazers on November 28

    The woeful Wizards got off to the worst start in franchise history, losing their first twelve games of the season. They finally got over the hump against the Portland Trail Blazers on November 28.

    Shooting guard Jordan Crawford led the team in scoring with 19 points off the bench. Trevor Ariza chipped in 14, and Emeka Okafor grabbed eight rebound and swatted three shots.

    As of December 10, the Wizards have won only one other game, a 105-101 decision over a lethargic Miami Heat team.

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