- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 24, 2005

PHOENIX — Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan often warns his players to not play to the strengths of their opponents.

Last night, however, as they closed out their five-game Western Conference swing with a game against the up-tempo Phoenix Suns, they did just that but came out on top, knocking off the Suns 112-111 behind a huge effort from Gilbert Arenas and a missed jumper from reigning MVP Steve Nash as time ran out.

The victory was just the second in Phoenix for the Wizards since Feb. 27, 1988. Before last night, the Wizards’ last triumph here came on Feb. 15, 2002, when Michael Jordan drilled a jumper with time running out in a 97-96 Wizards win.

Arenas finished with 41 points and five assists, but missed three free throws late in the game — the last with 12.5 seconds to play and the Wizards up by what would ultimately be the final margin.

After his final miss, the Suns’ Boris Diaw missed a shot and the ball was ruled out of bounds off Caron Butler with eight-tenths of a second remaining.

However, the Suns chance at victory evaporated when Nash, who got a clear look at the basket, failed to convert a jumper.

In a game with 32 lead changes and 16 ties the Wizards not only shot the ball well (41-for-82) but also dominated 52-30 in rebounds.

Butler scored 26 and Antawn Jamison finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds for the Wizards (11-14), who finished this road trip 2-3. They also scored a win at Denver.

Nash led five Suns in double-figure scoring with 27 points. He also added nine assists.

With Arenas scoring 11 points in the third quarter — including a 3-pointer with a tenth of a second left — Washington took an 87-85 lead into the fourth quarter.

Through three quarters the Suns never led by more than three points. But Phoenix opened the fourth quarter with nine straight points to take a 94-87 lead on 3-pointer from James Jones.

The Wizards got their first bucket of the fourth quarter on a Jared Jeffries’ put-back with 7:50 to play. That was the start of a 17-6 Washington run, capped by a Butler jumper that put the Wizards on top 104-100.

But the Suns tied the game with a pair of baskets, the second a breakaway dunk by Shawn Marion off a turnover.

Nash pulled the Suns within 111-109 on a 3-pointer with just inside a minute to play. His final shot, though, rolled out.

Playing the fast-paced style the Suns favor, the Wizards opened the game by making 14 of 24 field goals for a 33-31 lead at the end of the first quarter. That was their best first-quarter scoring effort since they got 32 in the first quarter of a 119-111 win over Toronto on Dec. 6.

While the Suns (15-10) have put together an impressive record considering all of their injuries (most notably All-Star forward Amare Stoudemire’s knee injury that will keep him out until after the All-Star Game) and the fact that they are not loaded with good defenders at the guard position, including Nash.

And Arenas took complete advantage of Phoenix’s defensive shortcomings in the first half, connecting on 10 of 14 field goals to match his season-high first-half point total with 23.

Note — Reserve center Etan Thomas missed last night’s game with a bruised left hip. He will be evaluated today.

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