WASHINGTON - This has not been the easiest season for Juan Dixon. The Washington Wizards chose not to pick up the option on the contract of the former Maryland star back in late October. Until recently, his playing time and performance have been erratic.
Dixon and the Wizards made statements last night against the Phoenix Suns before a sellout crowd of 20,173 at MCI Center.
Hitting 10 of 13 field-goal attempts, Dixon finished with 26 points and led the Wizards to a come-from-behind 108-103 win against the NBA's best team, albeit one playing without injured point guard Steve Nash.
The victory was the seventh straight for Washington (22-13), which starts a difficult stretch with back-to-back road games at San Antonio tomorrow afternoon and Dallas on Tuesday.
Dixon sparked a 16-0 run by Washington that erased a 93-84 deficit with a little over six minutes left. The third-year guard from Baltimore scored 13 points in the quarter to go along with three steals and three rebounds.
"When I get the opportunity to play, I try to make a difference," Dixon said. "[Friday] I came in and hit some shots in the fourth quarter, but more importantly I think I changed the game for them offensively. I try to play good defense, that's all I'm trying to do."
The performance by Dixon - two points shy of his season high, in another comeback win on Nov. 3 in Memphis - came one night after the 6-foot-3 guard sparked the Wizards in the fourth quarter of a two-point win in Milwaukee.
"He was huge in the win last night," Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said of Dixon. "Knowing that he can come in and feel good about himself, that he's the first guard off the bench, that gives him a comfort zone. His defense got everybody going. He's aggressive. He knows what we need."
What the Wizards needed was someone - anyone - who can shoot the ball. On a night when the team's three top scorers combined for 21-of-61 shooting, Dixon was the difference.
Dixon took advantage of Nash's replacement, Leandro Barbosa, at both ends of the court. After hitting a three-pointer to cut the deficit to 93-91, Dixon stripped Amare Stoudemire and fed Larry Hughes for a driving dunk.
After Barbosa missed, Dixon drove around the second-year guard from Brazil and flipped in a left-handed layup before Shawn Marion could block it. Dixon put a punctuation mark on a game-closing 24-10 run with a steal in the closing seconds.
It was the third straight loss for Phoenix (31-7), its second in as many night since Nash, a league Most Valuable Player candidate this season, suffered a deep thigh bruise in the first quarter Friday night at Indiana.
"It helped that Steve Nash wasn't in, but you've got to kick 'em when they're down," said Gilbert Arenas, who shot six of 23. "The last six minutes we played great defense. We probably can't play defense the other 42, but the last six we found a way to win."
Mostly, because of Dixon.
"He did a great job," said Arenas. "That's what he's supposed to do. That's what our bench is there for, to come off and do what we're supposed to do. If we're not on, he knows what he's supposed to do and he's doing it."
Percentages: FG .426, FT .765. 3-point goals: 10-30, .333 (Barbosa 5-9, Richardson 3-12, Johnson 2-6, Marion 0-3). Team rebounds: 7. Team turnovers: 18 (22 pts). Blocked shots: 4 (Johnson 2, Marion, Richardson). Turnovers: 17 (Stoudemire 6, Marion 2, Barbosa 2, Richardson 2, Outlaw 2, Johnson, Hunter, Vroman). Steals: 6 (Stoudemire 4, Marion, Richardson). Technical fouls: Richardson, 9:15 third; Stoudemire, 8:47 fourth. FGFTReb
Percentages: FG .427, FT .828. 3-point goals: 8-26, .308 (Dixon 3-4, Jamison 2-6, Arenas 2-9, Jeffries 1-2, Hayes 0-1, Hughes 0-4). Team rebounds: 9. Team turnovers: 14 (11 pts). Blocked shots: 5 (Jeffries 3, Haywood, Arenas). Turnovers: 14 (Hughes 4, Haywood 3, Jeffries 2, Arenas 2, E.Thomas, Dixon, Jamison). Steals: 9 (Dixon 4, Jeffries 2, Arenas 2, Hayes). Technical fouls: Defensive Three Second, 2:28 second; Hughes, 8.9 second; Haywood, 9:15 third. Phoenix21322525-103
A-20,173 (20,674). T-2:17. Officials-Bob Delaney, Matt Boland, Rodney Mott