WASHINGTON(AP) Coming out of the All-Star break, the last-place Washington Wizards set a goal of playing at least .500 ball for the rest of the season.
Then they went out and blew a 19-point, first-half lead against the Minnesota Timberwolves, another team reeling from the loss of its best player.
The Wizards avoided further embarrassment by pulling away in the final minute for a 111-103 victory Tuesday night in a game that guaranteed that at least one struggling team would start the season's homestretch on a good note.
"We couldn't have lost this game,'' said Mike James, who scored eight of his 15 points in the fourth quarter and hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final 70 seconds. "This was a game where we were in control most of the game - and then in the third quarter, they rallied and made it a basketball game. We had to come out and solidify ourselves.''
Antawn Jamison had 29 points and 11 rebounds, leading six players in double figures for the Wizards. Caron Butler added 17 points, six assists and five rebounds before limping off to the locker room in the final minute. Butler fell to the court clutching a rebound and banged his left hip, near the joint where he had a small labral tear that cost him 19 games last season.
"My alignment's kind of off right now,'' Butler said. "So we'll get it looked at again tomorrow and see how I feel.''
Randy Foye scored 23 points, Mike Miller scored 18, and Kevin Love had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who overcame the big first-half deficit but blew a six-point fourth-quarter lead.
"You just can't have a start like that and expect to come back and win,'' Minnesota coach Kevin McHale said. "We came back and I thought gave ourselves a chance. That's what we talked about, putting yourself in position to win games, but to their credit Mike James made two big 3s that hurt us.''
The Timberwolves have lost five straight, including two in a row following center Al Jefferson's season-ending knee injury. Jefferson, who was averaging 23.1 points and 11 rebounds, is scheduled for surgery Wednesday.
The Wizards, in serious contention for worst record in the NBA, have been missing their best player all season and had lost 10 of 12. Three-time All-Star Gilbert Arenas is still recovering from three knee operations in the span of 18 months.
The game, therefore, wasn't pretty, but at least it was tight.
The teams were tied at 76 after three quarters, then again at 78, 80, 82 and 84 over the first 5 minutes of the fourth. Craig Smith, back after missing four games with a broken rib, made a layup that put the Timberwolves ahead with 6:50 to play. The lead grew to 94-88, but the Wizards rallied and went back on top on James' 3-pointer with 1:25 remaining.
Minnesota took the lead again on Sebastian Telfair's 3 with 1:08 to go, but the Timberwolves didn't score again. Javaris Crittenton's jumper, James' baseline 3-pointer, and four free throws capped a Wizards victory in which they overcame 20 turnovers.
"We closed it down in the fourth quarter when it was a struggle,'' said forward Andray Blatche, who scored 14 points in his first game back after missing nine with a strained left knee. "That's where I feel this team is starting to get more focused - and not giving up because of our record.''
Notes: Minnesota G Rashad McCants returned after missing one game with the flu. ... There's still no timetable for the return of Arenas, who has yet to be cleared for contact on his surgically repaired knee. Interim coach Ed Tapscott said Arenas is "doing some shooting-around stuff, just ramping up slowly as part of the rehab process, seeing what stresses the knee can take.'' ... James apparently doesn't think his teammates - or sportswriters - are in good shape. Before the game, he offered a $15 McDonald's gift certificate to any writer who could do 25 push-ups, then dared teammate Juan Dixon to do 50 for $200. The writers scoffed - the three who were present were all in decent shape and said 25 would be no problem - but Dixon took up the challenge and did 50 in front of his locker, barely breaking a sweat and collecting his payout. ... Tapscott still has a sense of humor about his team's miserable record. Discussing the All-Star break, he said he'd been asked whether he went to the Bahamas. "The players go to the Bahamas,'' Tapscott said. "If I had showed up on that beach, they would have emptied the beach. Guys would have been running for cover.''