As the season's midpoint approaches, Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan has used his young bench more, trying to impress upon the reserves the importance of their roles.
Last night, it looked like they got the message.
The Wizards' bench players showed energy each time Jordan turned to them, scoring 30 points in a 111-98 win over the Knicks in front of a sellout crowd at Verizon Center.
"The bench came out tonight and really stepped up and had a big night for us in the first and second half," Jordan said. "We need for those guys to play with that kind of energy. That's what we want to get across to them and that's what we want them to understand."
The 111 points are the most by the Wizards (21-17) since they scored 118 in a loss at Memphis on Nov. 24.
Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler carried the Wizards, finishing with 32 and 22 points, respectively. Jamison shot 14-for-20 from the field.
Butler was 4-for-4 from the free throw line, setting the franchise record for most consecutive free throws made. His streak, now at 54, is the longest in the league since Kobe Bryant hit 62 straight in the 2005-06 season.
But when Jordan turned to the bench last night, it responded.
Nick Young (12 points) and Roger Mason (10) led the Wizards' reserves. Oleksiy Pecherov added eight points and four rebounds for the Wizards, who have won six of their last eight games.
Butler said when Young and Mason produce, it makes things easier for Jamison and himself because it changes the way teams defend them.
"It helps out a lot because whenever we get the ball, guys are going to load up on us," Butler said. "When those guys are playing well it forces teams to play us more in a one-one-one situation. If those guys continue to do that, it's going to continue to make things easy for us."
It looked easy for all of the Wizards players last night, as they made 56.8 percent of their shots. They built a 16-point lead in the third quarter, but the Knicks cut it to 92-88 with 9:56 left in the game.
However, the Wizards ended any hopes the Knicks had of winning with a 17-6 run. Mason made a jumper with 3:31 left, giving the Wizards a 109-94 lead.
Quentin Richardson scored 21 points for New York (12-27), which had its season-high three-game winning streak snapped. Jamal Crawford added 19 points.
After winning three straight games — one against Atlanta and two against Boston — the Wizards played poorly in a loss at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
Last night's game also featured Antonio Daniels' return to the starting lineup.
Daniels, who missed seven games earlier in the season when he suffered a sprained right knee, missed the loss in New York with a sore knee.
Back in the lineup, Daniels looked tentative at times but didn't appear to favor the knee, totaling eight points and seven assists.
Last night at Verizon Center
SEEN AND HEARD
After the game, Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas said his doctors targeted March 1 for his return from knee surgery.
"That is what they are saying," said Arenas, who had knee surgery on Nov. 21. "I feel good. I don't have any of the pain. In fact, I haven't been in any pain this whole time since I had the surgery. And this time there is nothing wrong with the ligaments this time."
While his doctors target March 1 for a return, Arenas said that is not definite.
"That is the date that they are telling me I should be ready, he said. "But if I'm not ready, I'm not ready."
The game closest to that date is against New Orleans on March 2.