UK Men's Basketball

Ex-Cats notes: Wizards above .500 for 1st time with Wall; Knight hits game-winner for Bucks

Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) dunks the ball in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, in Washington. The Wizards won 100-90.
Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) dunks the ball in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, in Washington. The Wizards won 100-90. AP

No, confetti didn't fall from the rafters, and there's no parade scheduled for Pennsylvania Avenue.

But John Wall pumped his right arm and smiled broadly as he dribbled out the clock, and the first word out of Bradley Beal's mouth when he addressed the crowd said it all: "Finally."

The Washington Wizards celebrated what they hope is the end of mediocrity Monday night, moving above .500 for the first time in more than four years with a 100-90 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

"It's only one game over, but, yeah, it's a big relief," said Wall, who has endured more than his share of Wizards frustration since his selection as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft. "But the main thing is we've got bigger goals to try to keep winning games and try to keep getting better and try not to go back down — so we won't have to have this talk again."

Wall scored 22 points, and Trevor Ariza added 20 and had another solid defensive game for the Wizards, who hadn't had a winning record since beating the New Jersey Nets to improve to 2-1 on Halloween in 2009. Washington committed six turnovers while forcing 16 from Portland, and Wall and Co. didn't look back after Kevin Seraphin led a 12-0 run that put the Wizards up by 17 early in the fourth quarter.

"It's great to finally get this team over the hump," Beal said.

No one on the current Wizards roster was on the team when it was last above .500. They had lost this season at 0-0, 9-9, 14-14, 19-19, 20-20, 21-21 and 22-22, and the hurdle became such a bugaboo that players starting declaring the subject taboo when reporters asked about it. Coach Randy Wittman at one point cautioned against thoughts that "all of a sudden fairy dust is going to fall on us if we get over .500."

Sticking with that theme, Wittman wasn't about to consider having slightly more "Ws" than "Ls" as much of an accomplishment.

"It ain't out of the way. How many more games have we got to play?" Wittman said. "You act like that was the last daggum game. ... If we're going to learn to be a good basketball team, we have to do this every night, no matter who you're playing."

The Wizards are 120-236 since that Oct. 31 victory 51 months ago, a .336 winning percentage better than only Minnesota and Sacramento over that span. The streak of futility fell just a few days shy of spanning an entire Winter Olympiad.

"It's great that we're 24-23 now, but I don't want them to focus on a number," Wittman said. "I want them to focus on the act of why you're 24-23. That's where you keep it going. I want this team to get on a run. They haven't ever been on a run."

Another way to put the quest to move above mediocrity in perspective: The Trail Blazers would have to lose their next 20 in a row just to fall back to .500.

But the Wizards have now topped two of the West's top teams in back-to-back games, having taken care of Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday. Washington's first playoff berth since 2008 is well within reach, especially in the watered-down East.

The Trail Blazers arrived averaging a league-best 108.3 points and shot 61 percent in the first half, but Portland was 6-for-17 from the field with seven turnovers in the decisive third quarter as Washington's defense again held its own against a more celebrated lineup.

"Give Washington credit," Portland Coach Terry Stotts said. "They are playing well, they've beaten some good teams, and they are playing with a lot of confidence."

Knight hits game-winner for Bucks

Brandon Knight took a couple dribbles and an important step forward in turning into the lead guard for the Milwaukee Bucks.

The third-year pro went shot for shot with Knicks star Carmelo Anthony down the stretch before nailing the most important one of the night.

Knight made a three-pointer with 1.4 seconds left and finished with 25 points, and the Bucks snapped a six-game losing streak with a 101-98 victory Monday night over visiting New York.

"That's his shot. He loves that little step-back, half-dribble 3," said forward Khris Middleton, who had 19 points.

With no timeouts and the ball in his hand for the Bucks' last possession, Knight quickly but calmly brought the ball up the floor after Anthony (36 points) hit a three-pointer with 19.4 seconds left.

He played out the seconds ahead in his head. Don't get caught in a "bad situation" off a screen or trap, an outcome that Knight said had played out too many times before.

"So I just walked it down, got into rhythm and was able to knock down that shot," Knight said.

Raymond Felton leaped into the air with an outstretched arm to try to disrupt Knight, then turned in disbelief as the Bucks guard rushed down the other end to celebrate.

"When I went back and looked at it, Ray kind of backed off a little bit. I thought he could have been a little more aggressive," Coach Mike Woodson said. "Ray's hand was up there."

The Knicks had one last chance, though Anthony misfired on a deep three before stumbling back into the first row of seats as time expired. He finished with 36 points.

Save for a sprinkling of onlookers wearing Knicks blue, the 11,000-plus fans at the Bradley Center rewarded the Bucks with a rousing ovation.

Wins — let alone this kind of dramatic victory — have been rare in this 9-39 season.

But Monday was especially important for Milwaukee because they fended off numerous runs by the streaky Knicks, who lost a second straight following a four-game winning streak.

This is the same team that's also had streaks of five wins and nine losses, too. New York hopes this isn't the start of another bad run.

New York rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter, but ended up falling to the worst team in the league two nights after losing to the Southeast Division-leading Miami Heat.

"There are no freebies in the NBA. You can lose on any night to any team if you don't play well," said center Tyson Chandler (seven points, 10 rebounds).

Middleton hit a season-high five threes for Milwaukee, which also snapped a seven-game skid to New York.

Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo had 15 points and sparked the crowd that included his family with a rousing dunk in the fourth quarter, while Zaza Pachulia also gave the Bucks a lift off the bench with 12 points and seven rebounds.

"I made some mistakes at the end that can cost us the game, but Brandon was there," Antetokounmpo said. "The hero was there to knock down the shot."

Knight went 10-for-23 from the field and 4-for-8 from long range.

"My teammates did a great job tonight persevering," Knight said. "Our past habits have been to drop our heads and say 'Here we go again.'"

Double-double for Davis in Pelicans' loss

Tony Parker scored 21 of his 32 points in the second half and also doled out nine assists, and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a 14-point deficit en route to a 102-95 victory at New Orleans.

Tim Duncan scored 16 of his 21 points in the second half, and Marco Belinelli added 13 against his former club.

Anthony Davis had 17 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks, Anthony Morrow added 20 points and Eric Gordon scored 19 points for the Pelicans, who appeared in line for their fifth win in six games when they led by 14 near the end of the third quarter.

The Spurs, however, had other plans. Parker strung together an array of dazzling driving layups through crowds of defenders, and San Antonio outscored New Orleans 38-19 in the final period.

Liggins named to D-League All-Star team

Former Kentucky standout DeAndre Liggins was one of 20 players chosen to play in the D-League's All-Star Game on Feb. 15 at New Orleans during the NBA's All-Star weekend. Liggins, who has averaged 15.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists and a league-leading 2.8 steals for the Sioux Falls Skyforce, is not under contract with an NBA team.

Former Murray State star Isaiah Canaan, who has averaged 21.5 points, 8.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, was also named to the D-League All-Star squad. Canaan, drafted in 2013 by the Houston Rockets, has spent most of his rookie season with the Vipers. He has averaged 1.2 points and 4.0 minutes in five NBA appearances.