- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Washington Wizards returned to MCI Center after an almost two-week absence during which they played — and lost to — some of the best teams in the NBA.

Last night, they got a bit of a reprieve in the form of an expansion team.

Coming off their worst loss of the season, the Wizards posted a decisive, and at least for now cathartic, 106-87 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats in front of 16,322.

It was a significant turnaround from Sunday’s 109-74 drubbing at Minnesota, which was the Wizards’ biggest margin of defeat since they fell to New Jersey by 49 points Jan.16, 2002.

“We were anxious to get back on the floor,” said Gilbert Arenas, who scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half. “I don’t even recall what we did the other night [when] we got our [butts] whipped. There was nothing really to think about because we got flat-out beat. … We just came out and played a normal game.”

The victory, however, came at a cost. Kwame Brown, who was sidelined for four months after foot surgery in August, suffered a setback. He played just seven minutes and scored three points in the first half before leaving with a strained tendon in his right ankle.

“He’ll be out of practice tomorrow for sure, and we’ll monitor it after that,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “He’s a big guy with a foot injury, and it’s hard to come back.

Brown has appeared in just 13 games this season.

The Wizards (15-11), who placed all five starters in double figures for the third time this season, were led by Larry Hughes with 20 points. Jarvis Hayes gave Washington six players with at least 10 points when he came off the bench to score 12. Antawn Jamison and Jared Jeffries both notched 15, with Jeffries’ effort matching his career high.

The Wizards made 40 of 74 shots to finish the night at a season-high 54.8 percent from the field.

“It’s good to be home, and it’s good to shoot a high percentage,” Jordan said. “This team has been resilient. We have lost some tough games, and we have come back and played pretty well. It’s about winning.”

The Wizards certainly played better defense against the Bobcats (7-17). They improved to 10-1 when they hold their opponent to less than 100 points.

Charlotte was led by center Emeka Okafor’s 18 points and 11 rebounds. That gives him a rookie-record 16 consecutive double-doubles, surpassing the mark set by Shaquille O’Neal in the 1992-93 season.

The Wizards never trailed. They led by 11 at halftime, 16 after the third quarter and by as many as 24 points late in the fourth.

The Wizards, who have relied on the big three of Arenas, Jamison and Hughes — perhaps more than they should at times — emphasized getting the ball inside early.

Brendan Haywood, who had all 14 of his points in the first half, and Jeffries combined to shoot 9-for-10 from the floor before halftime.

Arenas combined with Hughes for a nice sequence at the end of the second quarter to give the Wizards a 60-49 lead at intermission.

After Hughes ripped through the Bobcats’ defense for an emphatic one-handed dunk, Arenas stuffed a 3-point attempt by Jason Hart, starting in place of former Wizard Brevin Knight, who was ill.

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