- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2006

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Washington Wizards used to be the young team that didn’t know how to win.

Last night the Charlotte Bobcats, one of the youngest teams in the league, played that role as the more poised and veteran Wizards edged them 114-107 at Bobcats Arena.

Playing on the second of back-to-back nights, the Wizards made an NBA season-high 71.9 percent (23-for-32) of their shots in the first half. They almost wasted the effort though, when their energy level plummeted in the second half. Good free throw shooting down the stretch helped Washington overcome a five-point fourth-quarter Bobcats’ lead and hold on for the win.

The Wizards made 13 of 17 free throws in the fourth quarter, including nine straight at one point.

“This is a win that we just gutted out, you know,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said after the team’s 12th win in 15 games. “Wins come in all shapes and sizes and they are all great when you win on the road.”

Gilbert Arenas scored 39 points to lead the Wizards, who won their season-high fourth straight game. Coupled with a loss by the Orlando Magic to the Los Angeles Lakers last night, the Wizards (16-12) lead the Magic (17-13) by percentage points in the Southeast Division. Washington plays at home against Orlando tomorrow night.

The Wizards are four games above .500 for the first time since they were 39-35 last season. Washington hasn’t been in first place this late in the season since 1978-79 when they won the Atlantic Division as the Washington Bullets.

Caron Butler added 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting for the Wizards, while Antawn Jamison had 17 points and 11 rebounds.

Bobcats guard Raymond Felton scored 22 points before fouling out, and forward Emeka Okafor added 14 points and 12 rebounds to help Charlotte to a 45-36 rebounding advantage.

The Bobcats (7-21) made the Wizards work for the win.

After putting up little resistance at all in the first half, which began with the Wizards making 83 percent of their shots and scoring 39 points in the first quarter, the Bobcats rallied behind forward Gerald Wallace.

Wallace finished the game with a season-high 40 points, 14 rebounds, six steals and four blocks. The Bobcats outscored the Wizards 27-16 in the third quarter to take an 83-82 lead into the fourth. Wallace scored 18 points in the third on a variety of shots, including a pair of spectacular dunks.

To add to Washington’s troubles, center Brendan Haywood picked up his fifth foul with 6:29 left in the quarter. Jordan protested, earning a technical foul.

But the fourth quarter belonged to the Wizards, who outscored the Bobcats 32-24.

“We kept our poise, Coach drew up some good plays and we never felt like we were going to lose the game,” Butler said. “That’s what we’ve been doing a lot of this year. We had our rough start early on, but now we’re doing the right things at the right times.”

After Wallace put the Bobcats up 97-93 on a dunk with 4:53 left, the Wizards responded with a 16-4 run. Washington went up 109-101 on a pair of free throws by Antonio Daniels with 43.1 seconds left.

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