Yes, the same guy who was suspended for a game last month for complaining he didn't have enough plays drawn up for him. The 23-year-old Blatche is now what passes for a grizzled veteran -- and go-to guy -- on the Wizards.
Blatche scored 25 points and had 11 rebounds to lead the Wizards to a 101-95 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Monday night.
Blatche, averaging 25 points in the four games since Jamison and Butler were traded, helped Washington to its first three-game home winning streak since April 4-12, 2008. He also made all nine of his free throws.
"I feel like a leader. I feel like I'm leading my team in the right direction," Blatche said.
Not long ago, the idea of Blatche as a team leader would have been a joke in the Wizards' locker room. Jamison and Butler often ragged on him, telling him not to clown around, to take the game more seriously. Washington coach Flip Saunders criticized his play publicly, and now, he's challenging him.
"When you start playing like this, your expectations are going to be higher," Saunders said. "Now teams are going to set their defense up to play against you, to stop you."
Blatche's contributions were needed because Washington played most of the game without Josh Howard. Howard collided with Chicago's Flip Murray with 4:23 to play in the first quarter. Howard was helped off the court and suffered a strained left knee. He'll be reevaluated Tuesday.
Howard has joined with Blatche to provide lost of offensive spark since the trades. Washington is 3-1 since.
Saunders noticed an immediate change in Blatche after the trades.
"He's seen what we've done with our team," Saunders said. In reading Blatche's mind, Saunders says his player is thinking: "It's almost like, they're not messing around."
The Wizards coach was hoping for a more aggressive approach from Blatche, and during the third quarter, he saw it as he was cut on the right eyebrow, drawing blood.
"Flip says he wants to see blood," Blatche joked. "That means you're working hard."
Early in the third quarter, the Wizards scored 14 straight to take a 62-58 lead, holding Chicago scoreless for 6 minutes, 10 seconds. Blatche, Al Thornton and James Singleton each scored four points in the run.
Derrick Rose scored 22 points to lead the Bulls, whose four-game winning streak was snapped.
Blatche had nine points in the third quarter when Washington outscored Chicago 31-16 as the Bulls missed 15 of their 21 shots. Washington led 77-72 after three.
"Third quarter was terrible," Chicago coach Vinny Del Negro said.
The Wizards increased their lead to 93-80 after Blatche hit two free throws with 5:25 to play.
Rose led a late rally that cut Washington's lead to 96-95 with 1:55 left. He scored nine points in the run, including a three-point play that featured a beautiful scoop shot. Murray added 16 for the Bulls.
"No way we should have lost this game tonight," Rose said. "I tried, just trying to attack the hole, doing whatever it takes to win."
Thornton and Randy Foye hit late jumpers to give the Wizards a 100-95 lead with 1:01 to play. Thornton had 17 points, Foye had 16 and nine assists, and Singleton had a season-high 12 rebounds.
Chicago C Joakim Noah played 12 minutes and scored six points. He played seven minutes in Saturday's game after missing eight games with a plantar fasciitis injury to his left foot. ... G Lindsey Hunter, who hasn't played since Jan. 11, wasn't with the team due to personal reasons. ... The Bulls committed 14 turnovers. On Saturday, they set a franchise record with just four turnovers for the entire game. ... The Wizards have yet to buy out the contract of C Zydrunas Ilgauskas. If he's bought out, the NBA will not stop a potential reunion between Ilgauskas and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
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