- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 13, 2005

Gilbert Arenas’ resume already had one defining playoff moment on it: the 16-foot buzzer beater that beat the Chicago Bulls in Game5 in the first round of last season’s playoffs.

Last night, he forged his regular-season masterpiece.

Arenas, facing perhaps the strongest San Antonio Spurs team to date, put on a shooting display that mere words can’t do justice to, finishing with an NBA season-high 43 points as the Wizards toyed — yes, toyed — with the Spurs in a 110-95 victory in front of 20,173 at MCI Center.

“He looked like he was at one of those Rucker games,” said teammate Antawn Jamison, referencing the legendary Holcombe Rucker Playground league in Harlem. “He was just dribbling between his legs, trick shots, crossing over and hitting trick shots at halftime. The guy is unbelievable, man.”

And to the surprise of no one who was in earshot when he said it, Arenas, a basketball junkie, admitted to having played at Rucker.

“I played there the last two summers,” said a smiling Arenas. “I’ve got the MVP trophy at the house. Scored 50 points in a game there.”

It’s probably a good bet that his performance on the blacktop at Rucker didn’t come as easily as his 15-for-20 shooting performance last night — which included a 29-footer at the end of the third quarter.

Arenas fell one point shy of the career-high 44 he scored against Philadelphia on April9 of last season. And when he left the game to a standing ovation with 2:24 left, the Wizards — who shot 55 percent from the field — had improved their record to 5-1, the first time they’ve started this well since 1989-90.

Manu Ginobili led the Spurs with 28 points, and Tony Parker added 23, and both were partially culpable for Arenas’ performance as they and defensive stopper Bruce Bowen tried with no success to slow Arenas, who made 11 of his first 12 shots from the floor.

“We can always think of things to do better defensively, but tonight he was just on fire,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “Everything was going in, basket after basket.”

But while Arenas’ performance will be remembered for its beauty, what is becoming more apparent about the Wizards is that the roster is deeper — much deeper — than last season.

Jamison added 19 points and eight rebounds for the Wizards. And their bench, which pounded Seattle for 62 points one night earlier, outperformed the defending champion’s by a wide margin.

Reserve Caron Butler scored 17 points and the bench combined for 30 points and 21 rebounds opposed to the 19 points and 12 rebounds from the Spurs’ reserves.

No one is going to argue that Tim Duncan isn’t at the very least one of the two best players in the world, but last night he wasn’t even one of the best players on his team. He finished with 11 points and 14 rebounds but shot a hideous 3-for-18 from the field.

After 18 lead changes and 10 ties, the Wizards went ahead for good late in the third quarter on a Brendan Haywood dunk.

The lead reached double figures at 89-78 on a pair of Arenas free throws, and the Wizards defense forced the Spurs into 6-for-20 shooting in the fourth quarter.

The victory gave the Wizards a 3-1 record for their homestand, and only undefeated Detroit has a better overall record.

As cautious as Wizards coach Eddie Jordan usually is, he allowed himself a chance to bask in the moment.

“It’s early. It’s a fragile season,” Jordan said. “But we’re loving it right now for tonight.”

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