- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Kwame Brown returned to MCI Center last night for the first time since being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Washington Wizards again showed they didn’t miss him.

After trailing much of the game, the Wizards used some solid defense to preserve a hard-fought 94-91 victory over the Lakers and Washington’s former No.1 draft pick overall.

In the waning seconds, Jared Jeffries deflected what looked like an attempted pass by Kobe Bryant into the hands of Calvin Booth to clinch the victory, which gave the Wizards a three-game winning streak for the second time this season.

Gilbert Arenas, who idolized Bryant as a kid growing up in Los Angeles, led the Wizards (12-14) with 34 points. Antawn Jamison added 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Bryant led the Lakers (15-13) with 31 points but needed 27 shots to get them. He also committed five turnovers, the last of which sealed his team’s fate.

Brown, who was booed most of the night, came off the bench for five points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes against the team that drafted him in 2001. Meanwhile, the two players the Wizards got for Brown, Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins, finished with 16 and 12 points, respectively.

Butler was less concerned with the fuss surrounding Brown and more concerned with the Wizards avenging a 97-91 loss at Los Angeles a little more than a week ago.

“I just wanted to win the game,” Butler said. “It hurt losing to them out there like that. It was an opportunity for us to get a win, and we came up short, so it’s good to get a win here. Maybe we can get something started from it.”

Atkins, meanwhile, played to the crowd against his former team. After he dashed to the basket for a layup with 6:38 left in the game to give the Wizards an 84-77 lead, he came running to the bench wearing his best hip-hop scowl and with his hand raised to his ear like Allen Iverson.

The crowd at MCI had not seen much of the Wizards before last night. Entering the game, the Wizards had played only 10 home games, tied with Houston for the fewest in the league.

Now, however, the schedule should become much kinder for the Wizards, who won an MCI Center-record 29 home games last season. Including last night, the Wizards will be at home in seven of eight games.

The Wizards didn’t look at home early. They fell behind by as much as 16 points and made just 33.3 percent of their shots in the first half. However, they took control in the third quarter against the Lakers — playing for the second straight day after losing on Christmas to the Heat in Miami — with a 21-3 run that gave them a 72-66 advantage to begin the fourth quarter.

Late in the fourth, Bryant sandwiched a pair of 3s around Butler’s first 3 of the season to bring the Lakers within 94-91. Arenas then was called for traveling with 16 seconds left, giving the Lakers an opportunity to tie the game.

After a timeout, the Lakers got the ball to Bryant. But the Wizards’ double-team with Booth and Jeffries produced the desired effect, and Booth handed the ball to Arenas, who dribbled out the final seconds.

“We designed it just right,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “We just wanted to make sure that Kobe would not get a good look. Calvin was very instrumental in it. Kobe tried to turn and make a pass, and it just slipped out of his hand. That is a part of fatigue. He is a great player. We take the challenge to go against someone like him.”

It’s a good thing the fans at MCI spent most of the first half ignoring the basketball game to concentrate on booing Brown. Otherwise, they might have noticed that, minus the 17 points Arenas totaled on 7-for-14 shooting, the rest of the Wizards were a combined 8-for-31 from the floor.

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