- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Center Brendan Haywood tried to feign astonishment, but he fooled no one in the Washington Wizards locker room last night.

The Wizards’ 102-86 victory over the Toronto Raptors at MCI Center marked the first time since December 2002 that Washington had won three games in a row, something the Wizards were well aware of — but not completely satisfied by — last night.

“Wow, it’s been a minute, huh,” Haywood said. “It definitely feels good to get three in a row. Hopefully we can make it four, five or six in a row. String it together. Three in a row just wouldn’t happen for us last year. But this is a new team and a new year. Things are looking a little bit different for us now.”

Could be. Washington (6-4) hadn’t won three consecutive games since Michael Jordan last suited up for the organization. The Wizards could make it four in a row at Philadelphia on Friday, something they haven’t done since the 2001-02 season, when they won five straight in January and February.

More stunning, however, is that this is just the second time since the 1975-76 season that the Wizards franchise has been two games above .500 10 games into the season. The Wizards also started 6-4 in 2002-03, then lost five straight.

Last season in stumbling their way to just 25 wins, the Wizards put together a pair of wins seven times but in each case failed to nail down the third.

And last night they almost failed again, allowing the Raptors (5-7) to reduce what had been a 19-point deficit at the end of the third quarter to just 87-81 following Vince Carter’s 19-footer with 4:59 left.

But the Wizards recovered from Toronto’s 17-4 run, outscoring the Raptors 15-5 the rest of the way.

In the process, the Wizards pulled down a MCI Center-record 64 rebounds, breaking their mark of 62 on New Year’s Eve 2001 against New Jersey.

As a result of the sluggish finish, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan had mixed feelings following the game.

“It’s a good win, and I’m not really thinking about three in a row, although it’s been a big thing in the past because we didn’t do it and we had a certain amount of opportunities to do it,” Jordan said. “But I’m not happy with a lot of things tonight. We lost our composure. We didn’t share the ball, and we didn’t defend when it was time to defend. We didn’t really answer the bell when it was time, and they came at us.”

But after the Wizards withstood the Raptors’ rally, they regained control down the stretch.

It didn’t hurt that Antawn Jamison again made trading for him look like the franchise’s best move in years. Jamison finished with his team-leading fourth double-double, this time notching a game-high 28 points and matching a season high with 13 rebounds.

Gilbert Arenas added 26 points, five rebounds and four assists, and Larry Hughes finished with 20 points and seven rebounds.

The Wizards’ dominance on the boards was bolstered by the play of Jared Jeffries, who posted his first double-double of the season with 10 points and a season-high 12 rebounds, and Haywood’s season-high 11 rebounds.

Like Jordan, Hughes acknowledged the third win in a row but didn’t make a big deal about it.

“It feels good,” said Hughes, the league leader in steals. “But we’re not thinking about stopping at three. We think we can win every time.”

And looking at the schedule, that’s not impossible in the near future. Washington’s next five opponents all entered last night with losing records. The 76ers, for instance, are 4-6 and struggling.

“We don’t look at it like we’re going up there to steal a win. It’s not about stealing anymore,” Hughes said. “We have the opportunity to go there and win. We have to go focused and ready to play our game. We know we can come out on top. It’s no secret that we think we’re a good basketball team.”

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