- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2008

The Washington Wizards went through their morning shootaround yesterday believing that they had a good chance of getting leading scorer Gilbert Arenas back for the first time since November.

But team doctors evaluated the three-time All-Star’s surgically repaired knee and said they want at least another week before granting him clearance.

The Wizards, however, showed they can manage awhile longer without Arenas as they upended the Detroit Pistons 95-83 last night in front of a sellout crowd of 20,173 at Verizon Center.

With the win, Washington (36-33) extended its lead over the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors for fifth place in the Eastern Conference to 1½ games and moved three games over .500 for the first time since Feb. 1.

The Wizards beat the Pistons (49-20) for the second time this season, another impressive victory for Washington, which already has beaten league-leading Boston twice, Dallas and New Orleans twice and was four days removed from beating Orlando.

“We’re starting to get back to that form that we need to be back at as the season is winding down and playoff time is coming up,” said Antawn Jamison, who had 24 points and 12 rebounds for his 40th double-double of the season. “Now we’re starting defensively to get back on the right page, and offensively we’re moving the ball and really making our opponents play defense.”

Caron Butler added 17 points and six assists, and Brendan Haywood finished with 16 points. DeShawn Stevenson scored 12 points, and forward Darius Songaila came off the bench for 10.

Near the end of a back-and-forth first quarter, Stevenson hit a 3-pointer to give the Wizards a 21-18 lead. That ignited a 10-2 run, giving the Wizards a 28-20 lead after the first.

Washington, which shot 52.8 percent in the first half, extended its lead to 32-20 before Detroit came back to narrow the gap to 47-40 at halftime.

The strong play continued in the second half as the Wizards held an eight-point lead three times. With 7:54 left in the third and Washington up 59-51, Detroit went on a 10-3 charge to pull within 62-61 on a jumper by Richard Hamilton with 4:43 left.

Jamison scored on a layup and later added two foul shots, Daniels knocked down a 22-footer and Roger Mason Jr. hit a 3-pointer with 27 seconds left in the quarter to give Washington a 71-63 lead. Detroit scored once more to trim the lead to six after the third quarter.

The Wizards extended their lead with 7:24 left when Mason hit a 3-pointer for an 81-71 lead. It increased to 85-72 before Chauncey Billups made a 3-pointer with 3:02 left.

Washington put one of two exclamation points on the victory with 1:41 left. Butler posted up Hamilton and went up for a turnaround jumper. But he saw Haywood open under the basket and instead passed. The center went up for a two-handed slam, giving the Wizards a 90-78 lead.

“It was definitely big for us to get this win tonight,” Haywood said. “The key early on was we played very solid defense. We defended the paint, and we scored in the paint. We had a huge advantage in the paint tonight, and that led to a lot of easy buckets that allowed us to really be comfortable out there.”

Then with 25 seconds left, Stevenson milked the shot clock and hit a 3-pointer, extending the lead to 12 points.

“We played a very smart game,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “For the most part we had the proper temperament, the proper personality. Forty-eight minutes against a team like that, you have to keep your focus. … We shot 53 percent against a terrific defensive team.

“We finally trusted. As the game went along, we trusted our offense and our defense a lot more.”

The Wizards begin a five-game, seven-day road trip tomorrow night in Portland.

Note — Rookie Nick Young missed his second straight game with a right thigh bruise.

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