NEW ORLEANS — Anthony Davis was back in the starting lineup, and so where Al-Farouq Aminu and Austin Rivers.
It made little difference, as the Hornets fell to the lowly Washington Wizards 77-70 on Tuesday night at New Orleans Arena.
It was the first road victory of the season for Washington (3-15) and the 12th loss in 14 games for the Hornets (5-15).
The Wizards, a team with its two top point guards injured, battled back nearly all game. They took the lead for good with about five minutes left in the game and down the stretch showed the poise of a better team.
“Any loss is disappointing, especially when you have a 12-, 13-point lead,” said Davis, who had been out since Nov. 17 with a stress reaction in his left ankle. “You definitely want to stomp on that team’s neck and keep playing. Try to get it up to 20, maybe even up to 30. Just keep rolling. Don’t take any possessions off. And I think we took a fair amount of possessions off, and they came down and executed well.”
Guard Jordan Crawford, making just his fifth start, scored 26 points, carrying the Wizards with 15 in the second half. Ryan Anderson led the Hornets with 17 points and 11 rebounds, but he was just 3-of-12 on his 3-point shots. Davis had 13 points, eight rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots.
The Hornets’ 70 points were a season low, as was its 32.5 percent shooting, a low for a Wizards opponent this season. The Wizards shot 32.9 percent.
The Hornets saw their last chance at victory get away with 47.1 seconds left in the game. The Hornets trailed 73-70 after Crawford hit a step-back 18-footer. When Rivers had a five-second violation on an out-of-bounds play, turning the ball over to the Wizards, the Hornets’ fate was sealed.
“The better team, from top to bottom, just won,” said Wizards center Emeka Okafor, a former Hornet. “We started slowly, but by the third quarter, we had begun playing well, especially on defense, which we emphasize.”
The Hornets began the game well. Aminu made a shot in the lane, and Anderson and Rivers hit jump shots, giving the Hornets a 6-2 lead. They led 22-11 at quarter’s end, and it appeared their hunger was evident in a winnable game at home.
In the second quarter, the Hornets were still in control, 35-23, after a shot by Anderson. New Orleans’ advantage was still 42-30 with 42.2 seconds left.
At that point, however, the Hornets seemed to lapse in concentration, including three missed free throws. Washington capitalized, scoring the final six points of the quarter. Guard Bradley Beal made a steal, went coast to coast and made the layup and was fouled by Rivers with 9.6 seconds left. Beal made the free throw, completing the three-point play. It was 42-36, and all the Hornets’ work had been minimized, just like that.
The third quarter appeared to be raring its ugly head again. The Hornets quickly pushed the lead to 46-36 and led comfortably at 55-45 at the 4:50 mark. But the Wizards went on am 11-1 run to tie the score at 56. Jason Smith made two free throws, and Davis stole the ball then put back a miss by Brian Roberts, enabling the Hornets to hold on, 60-56.
It came down to the fourth. The score 65-65 with 5:06 showing when Crawford sank the first of consecutive 3-pointers. He came right back with one at 4:26 for a 71-65 lead.
Davis dunked a lob for Greivis Vasquez, but the Hornets tried the same play unsuccessfully the next time down. When Nene drove with 2:58 left, it was 73-67.