- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

There are some nights in the NBA — and they are few and far between — when defense honestly doesn’t matter. Last night at MCI Center was one of those occasions for the Washington Wizards.

Despite allowing the New Jersey Nets to shoot an uncharacteristic 50.7 percent from the floor, the Wizards countered with the best night of long-range shooting in franchise history, sinking 14 3-point field goals in earning their best-looking victory of the season 112-88.

Larry Hughes led the Wizards with 33 points, going 6-for-7 from beyond the arc.

The Wizards have had larger margins of victory — they torched the Nets by 27 last month — but last night the Wizards had the crowd of 14,001 more energized than at any other point this season.

They showered the Wizards (17-13), who broke their record of 12 3-pointers set last year against Dallas, with adulation in the second half, when they outscored New Jersey 64-40.

The Nets were simply left flustered.

“You have to respect Juan Dixon and his shooting ability,” Nets coach Lawrence Frank said as he recounted the nightmare he had just witnessed. “Once he pump fakes and takes a couple of dribbles and kicks it out to the next guy, who is probably Gilbert [Arenas], and then he does the same thing and kicks it to Larry [Hughes], and if it’s not him it is Antawn [Jamison]. They got it going tonight, especially late.”

The Wizards connected on 14 of 27 3-pointers for the game, but in the second half they drained nine of 14 from long range.

Hughes matched his season high for the second time in three games, on 12-for-22 shooting. And for the second time in less than a week, he made six 3s in a game.

“He’s been playing great lately,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “He’s reaching a different level.”

However, it was the scintillating play of Arenas (20 points) that blew the game open for Washington, which trailed by 11 points midway through the third quarter.

After not taking a shot for most of the third quarter, Arenas hit his first basket — a 26-foot 3-pointer with 4:25 to play in the period — to ignite himself and his team.

Arenas closed the quarter by scoring 13 consecutive points and helping the Wizards erase what had been a 64-53 New Jersey lead to take their own 76-72 advantage heading into the fourth quarter. In the final minute of the third quarter alone, Arenas collected three of the Wizards’ 14 steals.

“He’s trying to get his rhythm and his legs,” Jordan said of Arenas, who is still battling the flu. “He’s still a little bit under the weather. But it was just one of those Gilbert Arenas moments.”

Arenas, coughing in the locker room after the game, deflected any credit from the performance and chose to praise a team effort that saw seven different players make 3-pointers, including struggling reserve forward Jarvis Hayes, who scored 19 points.

“We just dug down a little bit deeper and found some energy — all of us,” Arenas said.

Arenas, who required three stitches to close a head wound he suffered when he fainted in the shower last week because of dehydration — said getting clubbed in the head in the same spot last night helped to light a fire under him.

“Something clicked on in my head and I was like, ‘OK, now you’ve got to go,’” he said.

Arenas’ explosion was part of a 31-10 run that eventually put the Wizards up 84-74. And after the Nets narrowed their deficit to 84-78, the Wizards closed the game with a 13-0 run.

Jamison finished with his 13th double-double of the season, 13 points and 10 rebounds. Newly acquired Vince Carter led the Nets (11-19) with a season-high 31 points, while teammate Jason Kidd added 19 points and seven assists.

The news wasn’t all good for Washington. Reserve guard Steve Blake, who has been trying to shake off foot injuries all season long, suffered another setback. The second-year point guard was knocked down by Carter, who was attempting to get to the basket, and departed the game with a sprained left ankle.

Blake, who hit both of his shots — both 3s — began the season on the injured list after undergoing offseason surgery on the left ankle. He was activated from the injured list Dec.26 after having recovered from a stained left arch.

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