- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 5, 2004

The Washington Wizards surprised everyone last night, rolling out a full complement of players — including point guard Gilbert Arenas, who wasn’t expected to return until after the Feb.15 All-Star Game thanks to a severely strained abdomen — for the first time this season.

But ultimately, all it meant was everyone was there to watch in amazement as the Memphis Grizzlies dominated the Wizards in the fourth quarter, gift-wrapping Memphis coach Hubie Brown’s 500th career victory with a 103-101 come-from-behind stunner in front of 12,531 at MCI Center.

The Grizzlies outscored the Wizards 32-17 in the fourth quarter. Along the way, Memphis blitzed them with a 24-2 run at the start of the quarter that was too much to recover from.

Most telling was that the greatest damage was done while the normally reliable second unit was in the game.

When Wizards coach Eddie Jordan finally got his frontline players back in the game with 8:48 to play, the Grizzlies (27-21) already had built up a head of steam no adjustment was likely to thwart.

“I thought it was good to play with a full deck,” said Jordan, whose team fell to 14-33. “We had a 13-point lead and it was my decision to give those guys a rest. It just didn’t work out because our bench didn’t hold the fort down.

“We got our guys back in but they rode a momentum that was pretty awesome. Fast breaks, dunks and open 3s. Our worst nightmare came to be in that stretch; we just could not stop the rush. Maybe I managed the game wrong at that particular point. If I did, I’ll take the hit.”

Memphis’ James Posey led all scorers with a season-high 31 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter.

Larry Hughes’ 27 points led the Wizards. Held to just two points in the fourth quarter, Hughes also had seven rebounds, six assists and four steals. Arenas, who started in his first game since Jan.9, scored nine points on 3-for-15 shooting in 36 minutes. Jerry Stackhouse had 19 points, Brendan Haywood finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks, and Kwame Brown added 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Despite their latest loss — and the fact they are just 2-4 in their longest homestand of the season, which ends tomorrow against the Clippers — the Wizards were happy to have everyone healthy at last.

“Despite the fact that we didn’t pull it out tonight it feels good for everybody to get back into sync,” Arenas said. “We did some good things out there but we need to clean up some stuff.”

Arenas, who played alongside Jerry Stackhouse for the first time since Stackhouse signed a contract extension and Arenas joined Washington via free agency, wasn’t expected to rejoin the Wizards until they played at Houston on Feb.17.

“I woke up this morning and felt good,” Arenas said, “So I decided to go ahead and try it.”

Arenas was on the court with Haywood, Hughes, Brown and Stackhouse as the Wizards ended the third quarter on a 12-0 run that gave the Wizards a 13-point lead heading into the fourth.

But when Jordan re-inserted all of the starters except for Haywood with 8:48 left in the game, the Grizzlies already had run off 10 unanswered points.

With Washington unable to stem the Grizzlies’ charge, the Wizards didn’t score a field goal in the fourth until Stackhouse’s 3-pointer ended the Grizzlies’ 24-2 run with 5:03 left in the game.

But Washington rallied, and after Haywood sank a pair of free throws to tie it at 97-97 with 1:25 to play it appeared as if the Wizards might pull this one out.

But back-to-back baskets by the Grizzlies’ Pau Gasol (18 points) in the final minute — sandwiched around a shot-clock violation by the Wizards — dispelled that possibility.

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