Juan Dixon jumped, clenched his fists and let out a yell amid the roar of the fans as he ran downcourt. It was a fitting way to celebrate a spectacular layup during Washington's 16-0 fourth-quarter run against the NBA's top team.
Dixon scored 13 of his 26 points — including a driving, change-hands-in-midair layup in traffic — in the final period, helping the Wizards to their seventh straight win, a 108-103 victory Saturday in Washington that sent the Phoenix Suns to their first three-game losing streak of the season.
"Emotion, man. Getting an opportunity," said the former University of Maryland star, explaining his series of emotional releases that including a pose to admire a 3-pointer.
"There's times when you're on the bench the whole game — you urge your teammates on, but you're not really a part of it because you're not out there contributing," he said. "Me, getting an opportunity to play and be a part of it, it's a lot of fun. I'm enjoying it right now."
The Wizards, off to their best start since 1978-79, made up a 10-point second-half deficit and won for the eighth time this season when trailing at the start of the fourth quarter. They usually make it thrilling — they won on a buzzer-beater by Larry Hughes at Milwaukee the night before — but they're winning.
"I know they're probably aging watching us play," said point guard Gilbert Arenas, referring to the team's fans. "But it's exciting basketball."
Arenas scored 26 points, Hughes had 22 points and 13 rebounds, and Antawn Jamison added 17 points and seven rebounds. One potential setback: Hughes jammed his right thumb in the fourth quarter and will be reevaluated today.
But it was reserve guard Dixon who was the late spark plug for the second straight night. He scored 11 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter Friday night against the Bucks and was 10-for-13 from the field against the Suns and became the first Wizards player other than Arenas, Jamison or Hughes to lead or tie for the team lead in scoring this season.
"I'm just going to play my role," Dixon said. "Those three guys have been carrying us the whole year, and it's up to us to come off the bench and be productive."
Steve Nash, the NBA's assists leader, sat out after bruising his thigh in Phoenix's loss to Indiana the previous night. His replacement, Leandro Barbosa, opened 1-for-8 in his first start of the season. Barbosa finished with 15 points and no assists, and the Suns' 13 team assists were a season-low for the third straight game.
"We don't have Steve Nash. It's a completely different story out there when you've got your court leader," said Quentin Richardson, who scored 25 points. "But at the same time, we were still in position to win the game. We just had a bad stretch and that was tough."
Amare Stoudemire scored 26 points for the Suns, 15 after being fired up by a taunting foul on Hughes late in the final seconds of the first half. But most of those points came from the free-throw line — Stoudemire was just 3-for-12 from the field in the second half.
Shawn Marion added 14 points and 15 rebounds for the Suns, who are 0-3 on their East Coast road trip. Phoenix got no points from its bench.
Both teams' fatigue from playing the night before showed in 18 combined first-half turnovers, with neither team leading by more than nine. Hughes got a technical for celebrating in Stoudemire's face after a dunk in the final 10 seconds of the half, and Stoudemire responded with a dunk just before the buzzer.
When they returned for the second half, Stoudemire and Hughes were fired up, but their mini-rivalry was overshadowed down the stretch by Dixon's heroics.
"He knows his role," Arenas said. "He comes out shooting. If he's on, he's going to stay in. If he's not, he knows we're going to pull him out."
TIMBERWOLVES 92, TRAIL BLAZERS 84: At Minneapolis, Latrell Sprewell scored 25 points, including a pair of key 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, to lead Minnesota. Kevin Garnett had 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Eddie Griffin grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds for the Timberwolves. The Timberwolves also took advantage of a thinned Portland frontline to gain the edge in the rebounding battle 44-32. Missing frontcourt players Zach Randolph, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Darius Miles due to injury, Portland went to a four-guard lineup through much of the second half.
PISTONS 99, 76ERS 95: At Auburn Hills, Mich., Tayshaun Prince's short jumper with 24.5 seconds left put Detroit ahead, and his two free throws sealed the Pistons' fifth straight victory. Richard Hamilton scored 25 points for the Pistons, who have won 12 of 16 since falling to .500 on Dec. 11. Allen Iverson had 28 points and 13 assists, tying a season high, for the 76ers.
BULLS 86, KNICKS 84: At Chicago, Eddy Curry's layup with 2.4 seconds left gave Chicago its sixth straight victory. The winning streak is Chicago's best since Michael Jordan led the team to 13 consecutive wins late in the 1997-98 championship season. The Bulls, who lost their first nine games this season, have won 12 of 15 overall. Andres Nocioni set up the winning score by blocking Trevor Ariza's jump shot. Tyson Chandler saved the ball from going out of bounds and threw it blindly to Kirk Hinrich, who fed Nocioni as he raced up the floor. Nocioni then passed to Curry, who drove to the basket and put the Bulls ahead.
HAWKS 103, BOBCATS 95: At Atlanta, Al Harrington scored 22 points, and Antoine Walker added 21 points and 11 rebounds to help the Hawks beat expansion Charlotte. The Hawks led 88-65 with 8:51 left to play but had to survive a late scare as the Bobcats cut the lead to single digits in the final minute. Jason Hart scored 13 of his 19 points in the final period to lead the comeback attempt.
GRIZZLIES 101, BUCKS 82: At Memphis, Tenn., Jason Williams had 25 points and eight assists, and the Grizzlies used a team-record 13 3-pointers to beat the Bucks. Pau Gasol added 22 points and eight rebounds, and Bonzi Wells scored 21 points for Memphis, which won for the eighth time in nine games. James Posey, 4-for-7 from 3-point range, finished with 14.
MAGIC 85, PACERS 84: At Indianapolis, Hedo Turkoglu had 23 points, and Grant Hill added 19 points and eight rebounds as Orlando held off a furious finish by the Pacers. Reggie Miller missed a chance to tie the game from the foul line with 3.3 seconds left, and Jamaal Tinsley's desperation heave from halfcourt banked in, but it was ruled he shot after the buzzer. Jermaine O'Neal had 38 points and 15 rebounds to lead Indiana, which had a two-game winning streak snapped.
MAVERICKS 98, NETS 93: At Dallas, Dirk Nowitzki scored 26 points, including 16 in the second half after having X-rays on his left ankle, to lead Dallas. Jerry Stackhouse had 20 points and 10 rebounds, and Michael Finley added 16 points to help the Mavericks snap a two-game losing streak and beat the Nets for the 10th straight time.
ROCKETS 73, SPURS 67: At Houston, Tracy McGrady summoned some more late-game moxie to put away the Spurs.
McGrady scored 28 points and came up with a handful of clutch plays to lead the Rockets to their season-high fourth straight win.