- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2005

Gilbert Arenas’ birth certificate says he just turned 23 — a baby by professional sports standards — but he has been in the NBA long enough to recognize when a player’s eyes indicate he wants nothing to do with the decisive moments of a game.

Last night against Portland with the game on the line, Arenas saw that look on the face of the Trail Blazers’ Richie Frahm. Moments later, the Blazers’ second-year guard had his inbounds pass swiped by Arenas and turned into a fast-break dunk that pretty much assured the Washington Wizards’ 104-100 victory before 15,836 at MCI Center.

“He didn’t want to take the shot — he was looking for the hot people,” Arenas explained. “He’s just a spot-up shooter. We knew he was looking to pass the ball, so I just went for it.”

This was merely a case of Arenas, who scored 26 points to match teammate Larry Hughes, planning ahead. Frahm, a reserve, was trying to get the basketball in play with the Blazers trailing 99-98 after Arenas’ layup with just 24.3 seconds remaining.

Hughes, who crammed another box score with nine assists, six steals and five rebounds, sealed the victory with three clutch free throws.

The Wizards improved their record to 20-13, marking the first time the franchise has been seven games above .500 since Jan.30, 1985, when the Bullets were 27-20.

The Wizards, in second place in the Southeast Division, don’t play again until Friday in Milwaukee, where they will have a chance to continue their unbeaten streak in 2005.

Last night’s win was of the stressful variety, and much of the Wizards’ stress was self-inflicted; they made just 14 of 30 free throws, missing nine in the fourth quarter.

“That was huge for [Portland],” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “Eighty-two games and you are going to suffer somewhere along the line, whether it’s rebounding, free throws or not making shots. Hopefully, it’s out of our system.”

Free throws were not the only thing missing last night. The Wizards got an uncharacteristically bad performance from forward Antawn Jamison, who finished with 11 points on 4-for-17 shooting.

But Jamison has noted all season that the team is good enough to survive a bad shooting performance by one of its stars. Last night’s win was a perfect example.

“That’s the type of luxury that this is, for us to have guys who can step up every night,” said Jamison, who grabbed six rebounds and blocked a shot. “Tonight I didn’t have it. But the good thing is that the other guys did. We got the win because they stepped up while I was struggling.”

Damon Stoudamire led the Blazers with 23 points and 11 assists. Nick Van Exel added 19 for Portland (15-19), which played without its injured second- and third-best scorers, Shareef Abdur-Rahim (elbow) and Darius Miles (knee). Then in the second quarter, the Blazers lost their top scoring threat, power forward Zach Randolph, who departed with a sprained right knee.

Nonetheless, Portland rallied from 13 points down in the fourth quarter. Without many options down low, the Blazers resorted to long jumpers and, behind the shooting of Stoudamire and Van Exel, took a 96-95 lead with 1:14 left on Van Exel’s 3-pointer right in front of the Wizards’ bench.

Hughes got the lead back for the Wizards out of a timeout, hitting a floater that gave Washington a 97-96 lead and forced the Blazers to call a timeout with 55.2 remaining. And when play resumed, the Blazers snatched back the lead on Theo Ratliff’s follow dunk.

It was a short-lived lead, though, as Arenas’ layup among the trees restored the Wizards’ lead at 99-98 with 36.9 to play.

Arenas made the Blazers pay again out of the timeout, stealing the intended inbounds pass from the sprawling Van Exel and racing in for an uncontested layup that made it 101-98.

Etan Thomas, who missed the Wizards’ first 32 games with a severely strained abdomen, had four points and four rebounds in his return. Activated from the injured list before the game, Thomas played 13 minutes.

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