- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2004

CLEVELAND — Something good is going on with the Washington Wizards, and last night the Cleveland Cavaliers got a chance to see it up close.

For the second game in a row, the Wizards had the opposition puzzled, befuddled and clueless as to where the next dagger would come from as Washington dismantled the Cavaliers 106-88 at sold-out (20,562) Gund Arena.

Led by Gilbert Arenas’ game-high 26 points — 18 in the second half — the Wizards had five players in double figures for the second night in a row, scored more than 100 for the sixth successive time and ended an 11-game road losing streak.

The Wizards took care of the Cavaliers in the third quarter when they outscored them 33-15 and Arenas put his personal stamp on the game. Arenas, playing in his third game back after a long stint on the injured list because of an abdominal strain, scored 15 points in the third quarter as the Wizards (16-33) took control.

But perhaps even more impressive than Arenas’ points, was his defense against LeBron James. James, who torched the Wizards for a career-high 38 points last weekend, was held to 14 and was a nonfactor for most of the night, scoring just six points after the first quarter and making six of 16 shots.

“We wanted to come in and put our stamp on the game, come in and show what we were about,” said Wizards center Brendan Haywood, who has posted both of his double-doubles this season in the team’s last three games. “The last time we let them take it to us and LeBron played out of his mind, dancing on our own court, showing us up on our own floor, staring at our bench. You can’t have that.”

The Wizards used a balanced attack to dominate the second half of last night’s game, when they transformed the Cavaliers from a team that made 65 percent of its shots in the first quarter into a wayward shooting group that made just 17 of 49 in the second half.

That enabled Washington to go from trailing by 11 points in the first quarter to a bloated 24-point lead in a fourth quarter of extended garbage time that never saw Cleveland get any closer than 13.

There was good news all over the court for the Wizards. Kwame Brown registered his fourth double-double in the last six games, finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Jerry Stackhouse, in only his fourth game back since missing the first 46 games following knee surgery, finished with 19 points and a team season-high 11 assists.

Haywood (16 points, 13 rebounds) played Cleveland’s Zydrunas Ilgauskas (15 points, 11 rebounds) to a standstill, and Juan Dixon, forced into action after Larry Hughes left in the first quarter with a sprained left wrist, finished with 10 points. The Wizards also dominated on the glass, outrebounding the Cavaliers 54-39.

Carlos Boozer paced the Cavaliers (19-32) with 19 points and eight rebounds, and Eric Williams added 13 points.

Although the Cavaliers could point their fingers at many different Washington players for the loss, most of them cited Arenas.

“He exploded in the second half,” said one-time Wizard Jeff McInnis. “They’re a good team with Stackhouse back. All their guys are back. It’s not just Arenas, but he is the difference with that team.”

Said James: “He’s a great player. He’s one of the few scoring points guards in this league, and it’s hard to stop that type of guy.”

The Cavaliers started fast by making their first five shots and connecting on 13 of 20 in the first quarter. The Wizards’ chances seemed to take another blow when Hughes was forced out after first injuring the wrist Wednesday against Memphis.

But despite an 11-1 run that stretched Cleveland’s lead to 27-16, Washington stayed close mostly because of Haywood’s surprising 10 points.

However, a Wizards scoring drought that didn’t end until Dixon drilled a 19-footer with less than eight minutes left in the second quarter left Washington trailing by nine. The Wizards responded by holding the Cavaliers to just three field goals in the final six minutes of the half.

As well as the Cavaliers were shooting the ball in the first quarter, they were nearly as bad in the second as they hit just seven of 20 from the floor. As a result, the Wizards closed to 48-45 at the half but appeared to be comfortable and ready to break things open in the second half.

With Dixon starting in place of Hughes, the Wizards continued to dominate in the third quarter. Crisp ball movement along with solid interior play from the big men helped spark a 20-6 run at the start capped by Arenas’ 3-pointer that gave the Wizards a 65-54 lead at the 5:49 mark.

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