WASHINGTON (AP) — Wizards coach Flip Saunders is starting to see some progress from his young squad.
Rashard Lewis had 16 points and a season-high 13 rebounds Friday night, and Washington raced out to an 18-point first-quarter lead before cruising to a 97-77 victory over the New Jersey Nets, snapping a three-game skid.
Washington, 0-17 away from the Verizon Center, improved to 9-8 at home with Friday’s win — none of the Wizards’ victories have come against teams with a winning record.
“That’s the evolution of becoming a good team,” Saunders said. “The first thing is you win games at home. You beat teams you’re supposed to beat at home and are competitive against the good teams. Right now, we’re at that first step.”
Against another terrible road team in the Nets, the Wizards opened up a 21-3 lead in the first eight minutes and faced little resistance from cold-shooting New Jersey the rest of the way. Lewis hit all three of his 3-pointers in the first quarter to spark Washington.
Nick Young scored 16 points, JaVale McGee had 15 points and Andray Blatche added 14 points.
“My shot felt good coming into the game and I came out tonight and felt it early,” Lewis said. “It all came from defense. When you’re getting stops, you can run out and John (Wall) is pushing the ball, the defense collapses in the paint and I was wide open on the perimeter.”
The road-weary Nets are now 3-17 away from home, and have dropped their last five road contests and six of seven overall.
“It’s a struggle on the road — especially for a young team,” New Jersey coach Avery Johnson said. “This team — they were looking for a little bit of life — the Wizards, and they came out rested and ready, and they played really well, but this wasn’t one of our best games, and the guys really should feel bad about this one.”
Devin Harris and Sasha Vujacic combined to shoot 2 for 21 as the Nets hit just 35 percent from the floor. Brook Lopez and Jordan Farmar each had 14 to lead New Jersey.
“We just didn’t play the way coach asked us to play. Personally, I played terrible. It’s one of the worst games I played in my life,” Vujacic said after his 1-for-14 night.
Nothing went right for the Nets in the first eight minutes of the game. They shot 1 of 13 to allow Washington to build the huge lead.
After Lopez’s jumper made it 7-3 with 8:09 remaining, the Nets went scoreless for the next 4:14. During that span, the Wizards went on a 14-0 run, keyed by three consecutive 3-pointers by Lewis and another triple from Young.
Wall had as many assists — five — as the Nets had field goals in the first quarter. He spent most of the second period on the bench, although he did contribute a beautiful alley-oop pass to McGee for a thunderous dunk.
Faced with digging out of the first-quarter hole, New Jersey settled for firing up 3s for most of the half.
“This was a game where we, I think, were probably two for about 15 on wide-open shots that weren’t even contested. Some of those shots, they didn’t have anybody between us here in Washington and East Rutherford, New Jersey, and we still missed them,” Johnson said.
With the Wizards gaining their footing at home, Saunders said the next step is getting the job done on the road, where the Wizards will play Charlotte on Saturday.
“We’ve got to play this way for 48 minutes on the road,” he said. “If we play the way we are supposed to play and do the things we are supposed to do, we’re going to give ourselves a chance.”
Notes: Wizards swingman Josh Howard missed the game after aggravating his left knee in Wednesday’s loss at Philadelphia. Howard will be reevaluated on Monday. “We don’t want to take any chances,” Saunders said. … Harris strained his right quad in a second-quarter collision with Kirk Hinrich, but Harris thinks he’ll play Saturday night against Milwaukee. … The Wizards unveiled a new trophy case on the main concourse of the Verizon Center, featuring a refurbished Tiffany & Co. trophy celebrating the 1978 NBA Championship won by the Washington Bullets.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)