- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

Even though he is the man the Washington Wizards want triggering their offense, there are times when the team needs point guard Gilbert Arenas to be as selfish as he wants to be.

Last night’s dramatic 95-88 victory over the Chicago Bulls at MCI Center was one of those nights.

Arenas scored a season-high 34 points to lift the Wizards to their best start in 30 years (10-5) on a night when the rest of his teammates couldn’t locate their offense.

The last time Washington was better than this after 15 games, the only current player alive was elder statesman Anthony Peeler (35). In 1974-75, the then-Washington Bullets went 11-4 to start the season and ultimately notched the most wins in franchise history, going 60-22 and reaching the NBA Finals.

“That’s nice, but we’re not thinking about what happened before,” said Larry Hughes, who finished with a career-high seven steals. “That doesn’t matter. We’ll knock a couple of those old barriers down if we keep doing what we’re doing, but that’s not what this is about. We plan on going forward.”

For most of the night it appeared that the Wizards would fail to reach this plateau by winning for the seventh time in eight games.

On a night when the Bulls shot better (43.7 percent to 35.3) and dominated the rebounding (50-35) behind Tyson Chandler’s season-high 21, the Wizards had to rely on Arenas — and he came through.

Playing on calves that were “tight as a drum” and with a painful back that was cramping for most of the night, Arenas scored 13 points in the third quarter and helped the Wizards outscore the Bulls 26-18 in the fourth quarter. Thus Washington achieved its first four-game winning streak since the 2002-03 season.

“Gilbert, when we needed it, took care of the game,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said.

Said Arenas, who saw his teammates shoot a combined 20-for-60: “I was just trying to take advantage of what they gave me. Antawn [Jamison] and Larry had some trouble getting it to go in, so I had to get it done. There will come times when they do that for me.”

Jamison finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds but was not himself for most of the night. It didn’t get any better when he was forced from the game to have two stitches taken under his right eye, the result of an errant elbow from Antonio Davis.

And though Hughes finished with 18 points, he made just four of 15 shots from the floor.

“The good thing about us is that when we have nights like that, where guys are struggling, we always have at least one guy who is going to be getting it done. Tonight it was Gilbert,” Jordan said.

The Bulls, who made 31 of 71 field goals, placed five players in double-digits led by Andres Nocioni’s 16 points.

The game featured a flare-up between Washington’s Brendan Haywood and Chandler, when the two became entangled tussling for possession of the ball late in the game.

The Wizards last saw the Bulls during the preseason in a game that was marked by suspensions to Haywood (three games) and Hughes (two) for their role in a brawl. But since then, the teams have gone in different directions.

The Bulls have been typically horrible (2-12), just as they have been ever since Michael Jordan left in 1998. The Bulls lost their first nine games before finally getting a win at Utah.

Nonetheless, the Bulls seemed to lull the Wizards to sleep in the first quarter. One night after they scored a season’s best 36 in the first against Atlanta, the Wizards had just 17 points on 6-for-18 shooting.

Leading by eight points at the end of one quarter, the Bulls used a 16-8 run at the start of the second to claim a 36-25 lead. But Washington closed the gap with a 24-14 third-quarter run to trail by just 71-69 heading into the fourth.

The Wizards took their first lead of the second half at 81-79 when Jamison scored on a short jumper with 4:39 left. Washington then used a dunk by Brendan Haywood and a pair of free throws by Jamison to extend the led to 85-81 with 1:32 left in the game.

Jared Jeffries closed the door on the Bulls when he banked a 3-pointer with one minute to play.

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