- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Washington Wizards needed to demonstrate — even if just to themselves — that they can play a little defense when necessary. In doing so, they began the season’s second half the same way they did the first, beating the Memphis Grizzlies 93-83 last night at MCI Center before 15,705.

The victory was the Wizards’ first in almost two weeks, dating to a 94-91 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Feb.11. Washington had lost its final three games before last weekend’s All-Star Game.

The Wizards (31-22) played little to no defense in those games, allowing opponents to shoot a combined 53.4 percent. As a result, Washington lost to Detroit by 21, to miserable New Orleans by two and to Houston by 30 points.

In response, coach Eddie Jordan focused most of the team’s practices on defense, and it paid off last night as Washington limited the Grizzlies (30-24) to just 34.6 percent shooting from the field.

“I was very disappointed with the last three games before the break; that was unacceptable,” forward Antawn Jamison said. “Our mind frame was kind of like the break was coming up, and we just kind of went through the motions. That’s not the sign of a team that is trying to turn things around. We took a giant step back before the break. We’ve got 29 games left, and we have to do whatever it takes to get our energy and our momentum for the rest of the season.”

Washington, which has won 13 of its last 15 home games, got strong performances from Jamison and Gilbert Arenas, both fresh off their first All-Star Game appearances. Arenas had a game-high 30 points and made all 13 of his free throws. He also finished with 10 rebounds, six assists and a pair of steals.

Jamison, the only other Wizard in double figures, finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds for his 21st double-double of the season. He and Arenas combined to score 36 of the Wizards’ 51 points after halftime.

“That is the responsibility they know they have,” Jordan said. “They have to carry us. There are no nights off for them; we need them to do a lot of things out there. They need to fill the box score up.”

It might not be long before the Wizards can turn to a few other resources to give them a boost, namely Kwame Brown and Larry Hughes.

Before the game the Wizards activated both from the injured list. Brown finished with two points, three assists and two rebounds in 10 minutes. Hughes, who missed 17 games after breaking his right thumb against Phoenix on Jan.15, did not dress and is looking at a possible return Sunday.

“Everything is going good with the healing process; I’m right on schedule,” Hughes said before the game. “I think Sunday is more realistic. By Sunday, I’ll have had a few more practices. I just don’t want to rush. My right hand is going to take a lot of hits. I’m ready to play, and I think I can compete, but there is a little risk factor there.”

It was the first time the teams met since the Wizards earned a rousing 103-91 victory over Memphis in the season opener at the Grizzlies’ new FedEx Forum. That night the Wizards, with just eight players in uniform, rallied from a 19-point deficit.

Last night the roles were somewhat reversed. The Grizzlies were without injured leading scorer Pau Gasol (plantar fasciitis) and two other key players, James Posey (Achilles) and Stromile Swift (ankle).

After an unspeakably bad first half by both teams — the Wizards shot just 39.4 percent, and the Grizzlies couldn’t even match that — Arenas shifted into a higher gear. He attacked the basket in the third quarter to score 13 points. His relentless assault on the rim resulted in seven free throw attempts, and he hit them all.

The rest of the Wizards got into the act as Washington used a 26-12 run to build a 72-61 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.

The reinvigorated Wizards, who got a season-high nine points from Steve Blake, eventually led by 19 with 9:37 left. Memphis never really threatened again as the Wizards improved to 8-2 this season against Western Conference opponents at MCI Center.

Mike Miller was one of five Grizzlies who scored in double figures, leading Memphis with 16 points and seven assists.

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