- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 21, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. | It’s a little early to call it the second-half turning of the corner that the Washington Wizards hoped for, but for at least two games, the post-All-Star break Wizards appear better than the pre-All-Star version.

The Wizards led the host New Jersey Nets the entire first half Friday, shrugged off a charge by their opponents and then used a third-quarter surge and a rebounding advantage to earn a 107-96 victory - their second straight.

Washington (13-42) last won two consecutive games Dec. 27 and 29 against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets, respectively.

The victory gave the Wizards their first road sweep of New Jersey since the 1977-78 season. Washington routed New Jersey at the Izod Center 108-88 on Dec. 2.

The Wizards boasted a 54-41 rebounding advantage and scored 60 points in the paint opposed to the Nets’ 36. Washington, led by forward Antawn Jamison’s 28 points and 12 rebounds, also posted all five starters in double digits for the first time this season.

“We came out and gave up a lot of offensive rebounds in the first half, so one of our real focuses at halftime was finishing the defensive play by getting the rebound,” said Wizards forward Dominic McGuire, who finished with a game-high 14 rebounds and a team-high three blocks. “We’ve been talking about this is a new season for us, the second half of the season, so this is big, 2-0, playing great team ball, playing great defense. We just need to keep it up.”

Mike James and Caron Butler scored 19 points apiece and center Darius Songaila added 10 points for the Wizards, who outscored the Nets 25-20 on second-chance points.

“I think our rebounding was a big deal for us,” Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott said. “We had Antawn Jamison with 12 and Dominic McGuire with 14 rebounds, that was a big help. What it means is we got some extra possessions on the offensive end, and defensively we were not giving up extra possessions.”

Neither team played particularly well in the first quarter. Washington led 20-18 after one quarter despite shooting 37 percent from the field and getting outrebounded 17-9. The Nets’ 36.4 percent shooting and five turnovers in the quarter negated their rebounding advantage, however.

After trading leads early in the second quarter, the Wizards went in front by as many as 11 points - up 43-32 with 3:15 left in the half. Then they missed six of their final seven shots. The Nets capitalized on Washington’s cold spell with a 10-2 spurt and pulled within 45-42 at halftime.

New Jersey regained its momentum in the third. The Nets outscored the Wizards 8-2 and forced Washington to call timeout 2:15 into the quarter.

Washington then struck back. In the final nine minutes of the third, the Wizards outscored the Nets 33-15. James paced the scoring charge with 10 points.

Washington led 80-65 heading into the fourth but allowed New Jersey to pull within 85-80 with 6:15 left. But McGuire backed down New Jersey’s Keyon Dooling and scored on a bank shot to ignite an 11-3 run and stretch Washington’s advantage to 96-83. The lead increased to 100-85 with 1:15 remaining and New Jersey came no closer than 11 points before time expired.

“I don’t think we came in here looking for a fight,” Nets rookie center Brook Lopez said. “I know I came in here expecting a win.”

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