- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2006

The rapid-fire nature of the NBA, with games coming in quick succession, often on back-to-back nights, can turn the season into a blur.

So when a team gets in a lull like the Washington Wizards, who played their first game since Saturday yesterday, an eagerness builds up that, when released, can be either good or bad.

Last night the Wizards got to release that energy against the Denver Nuggets and earned their biggest victory of the season 120-91 in front of 14,304.

“We were itching to play,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “Look back at last week and we beat what I think is the best team in basketball. We got two wins on the road, and we go toe-to-toe against what I think is one of the top three teams in basketball, [which is] Houston. It was a tough loss but we wanted to carry all of that good stuff we’ve been doing into this week before we go out on the road and the treacherous waters out there.”

Jordan was referring to wins over Dallas, a game in which the Wizards ended the Mavericks’ 12-game winning streak, back-to-back road wins over New York and Philadelphia that ended the team’s franchise-record 0-8 start away from Verizon Center, and of course the hard-fought loss to Yao Ming and the Rockets.

Jordan’s players continued their strong play last night.

Gilbert Arenas led the way for the Wizards (10-11), finishing with a team-high 34 points and all five starters scored in double figures for the third time this season.

Caron Butler notched a season-high 26 points and, with nine rebounds, fell one rebound short of what would have been his 19th double-double of the season.

However, the same could not be said of center Brendan Haywood. Haywood — making his first start of the season for injured Etan Thomas (sprained ankle) — posted 12 points and a game-high 13 rebounds despite playing with a bruised thigh suffered against Houston last Saturday.

“You always have to make the most of your opportunity because it only knocks once, that’s what they tell me,” Haywood said. “I got one tonight and I made the most of it and hopefully I can continue to do that.”

With Thomas out perhaps through next week’s Western Conference road trip, Haywood has a chance to help his team when it needs him most — away from the security of Verizon Center, where the Wizards are just 2-8.

“My job is to make it tough on Eddie to knock me out of the starting lineup, that’s my job,” Haywood said. “If I continue to go out there and play like this, at least it puts some pressure on him to put me back in the starting lineup. Whatever decision he makes, that’s what I’m going to roll with.”

Last night the Wizards rolled, despite a game-high 37 points from Denver’s Carmelo Anthony. The Wizards led by as many as 16 in the first half, but in the third quarter the Nuggets (12-8) cut the lead to 65-61 with just more than nine minutes to play.

However, over the next 18 minutes the Wizards outscored Denver 40-19 for a commanding 107-80 lead with roughly six minutes to play.

After going 5-9 in December 2005, the Wizards — who were 9-12 at the same time last season — are 5-2 so far this month.

“We are playing great basketball the last six or seven games,” Arenas said. “We’re doing great. We’re hitting our swag at the right time. Last year we had a bad December, this year we had a bad November, so things are looking up.”

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