- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

BOSTON — When Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison miss shots like they did in the first half against Boston on Wednesday, it’s an almost certain recipe for disaster.

Second only to Philadelphia’s trio of Allen Iverson, Chris Webber and Andre Iguodala (64.8) in points a game, the Wizards trio (63.5) made just five of 22 shots in the first half of the Wizards’ 89-87 win at TD Banknorth Garden. But they trailed by only two points at halftime.

The reason: center Brendan Haywood.

Often maligned for not playing like the 7-footer he is, Haywood recognized his reliable teammates were having an off night and stepped up his game, finishing with a season-high 21 points, including 14 in the first half.

“He was keeping us alive, truthfully,” said Arenas, who sank the game-winning free throws with 1.7 seconds left. “He was keeping the ball alive, getting rebounds and tip-ins. That’s the kind of game we need from him if we expect to be a good team.”

Although he was credited with just one block to go with seven rebounds, Haywood changed numerous shots, especially in the second quarter when the Celtics scored just 10 points on 4-for-19 shooting.

But it was Haywood’s offense that helped the Wizards (19-21) win their seventh game in the last 10.

“I just wanted to go out there aggressive,” he said. “Caron didn’t have it going and Gil didn’t have one of his normal nights. So I just stepped up a little bit and Antawn stepped up a lot.”

With the Celtics forced to pay closer attention to Haywood in the post, Jamison was able to find a rhythm, scoring 22 of his game-high 26 points in the second half. He also matched his career-high with four 3-pointers — all after halftime — because the Celtics weren’t jumping out to double team the perimeter.

“Man, it’s ridiculous,” Jamison said of the difference Haywood can make. “When you have a center that takes the pressure off the three guys who pretty much put the ball in the basket it keeps your opponent off balance and they can’t key on us. He’s down there dunking the ball and putting back missed shots. To have that threat is a luxury. You’re starting to see him get his swagger back.”

Although he didn’t say it, Jamison was talking about the way Haywood began the season, when Wizards coach Eddie Jordan was touting Haywood as a potential All-Star in the center-deficient Eastern Conference.

But Haywood is averaging 8.5 points after averaging a career-high 9.4 last season, marking the first time in five seasons that Haywood has failed to average more points than he did the season before.

Earlier this month, when Jordan soured on Haywood’s play, he benched him and Jamison for two games, and Haywood voiced his displeasure with the move.

But Haywood has looked better of late. In the two games before the Boston victory — a win and a loss — he totaled 23 rebounds and three blocks.

While he believes he can score more, don’t look for Haywood to start firing away.

“There are opportunities for me to score the ball more but, as long as we win I really don’t care,” he said. “We know who the scorers are on this team. I know who they are. I mean, I’m not going to get 10 or 15 shots a night and I don’t expect to get that many.”

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