- The Washington Times - Monday, December 13, 2004

After pummeling the latest in a string of opponents vying for the title of Worst Team in the NBA, the Washington Wizards peppered their postgame comments about their season to date with a healthy mixture of confidence and little delusion.

With yesterday’s 88-69 victory against the New Orleans Hornets at MCI Center, the Wizards (12-6) are off to their best start in 30 years. They have won nine of their last 11 games and are the second-highest scoring team in the league. And contrary to recent seasons when the focus was on the future, the team’s next opponent is the primary concern.

Much of the chatter in the Wizards’ locker room yesterday was about the Miami Heat, whom the Wizards play in Miami tonight and at home Wednesday, and not the NBA impostors from New Orleans who matched a franchise record with 33 turnovers and tumbled to 1-18 in front of 13,969.

“I wanted to beat Denver,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said of the team’s lone loss (111-105) in the last four games. “A 3-1 homestand is pretty good. We’ll go from there. I’d like to say we beat San Antonio, the Lakers and the Timberwolves. But we play the schedule and there are no excuses made.”

Against Miami, and then a four-game western trip beginning Friday in Los Angeles, the Wizards won’t be able to play as sloppily as they did yesterday and still win in a rout. Gone from the schedule, at least for now, are the Chicagos, Atlantas and New Jerseys of the world.

The Wizards yesterday turned over the ball a season-high 21 times, but that was offset by a season-high 20 steals. However, had injured All-Stars Baron Davis, Jamal Mashburn and Jamaal Magloire been available to the Hornets, Washington likely would have found itself in a dogfight.

But all the Wizards needed to do against the depleted Hornets was to play a nice stretch of basketball to pull away, and that is exactly what happened in the third quarter.

The Wizards broke open a 42-39 game early in the third with an 18-0 run, during which Larry Hughes (15 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals) and Brendan Haywood (17 points, six rebounds and two blocks) combined to score all of the points. The Hornets contributed to the run by turning the ball over eight times in less than four minutes.

“They applied pressure and we panicked,” Hornets guard David Wesley said. “They lead the league in steals and causing turnovers, and we played right into their hands.”

With Washington’s subs on the court for most of the remainder of the quarter, the Hornets managed to cut the lead to 64-53 heading into the fourth. But the margin would get no smaller the rest of the way and stood at 75-55 with just more than nine minutes left.

So just how good are the Wizards?

“We are going to find out,” said Antawn Jamison, who finished with 17 points on 7-for-14 shooting. “We know what is at stake. We’re down to [Miami] 0-2 in the division. We have to find a way to come out and play two good games against a quality team.

“With the road trip coming up this was a very important stretch for us, and other than the Denver game we were able to accomplish what we wanted to. It shows you how this team has matured. Those are the things that good teams do. We have to find a way to carry what we do at home to the road.”

Gilbert Arenas added 16 points, six assists and six steals for the Wizards.

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