- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Any other year of the millennium, this might have sounded crazy: The Washington Wizards desperately needed a game against a team like the Los Angeles Lakers last night.

Against this mediocre bunch of Lakers, the slumping Wizards again looked like a team headed toward the playoffs after an easy, 95-81 victory before 20,173 at sold-out MCI Center.

In the process, Washington (34-27) completed the first season sweep of the Lakers in franchise history. More importantly, the Wizards were able to get an opponent down and hold it there at a point in the season when every game is critical to their playoff run.

“One we definitely wanted, one we definitely needed,” Wizards guard Larry Hughes said. “We’ve got a lot of games coming up real quick, and we got to [get some wins] now.”

The bad news is they might have to play without forward Antawn Jamison, who appears to be losing a battle with tendinitis in his right knee. Last night he limped off the court before the first quarter was over and did not return.

Although there was no immediate update available, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said the team could be without Jamison for “some time.”

“If that’s the case, then we’re all going to have to step it up some more,” Wizards center Brendan Haywood said after scoring 16 points. “You’re talking about 20 points and eight rebounds every night that have to come from somewhere.”

Last night the offense came from where it does most nights — Hughes and Gilbert Arenas.

Hughes finished with 21 points, a game-high 12 rebounds and seven assists, and Arenas had 21 points.

Hughes also had the tough defensive assignment of Kobe Bryant, the league’s second-leading scorer at 28.6.

The Wizards tried to give Bryant as many bad angles as possible, often double-teaming him with 6-foot-11 Jared Jeffries. The strategy was effective; Bryant was limited to 18 points on 6-for-22 shooting.

“Larry and Jared are our two best defenders, and they did a great job,” Jordan said. “That was the matchup. We gave some help and gave him some angles to look at.”

Jeffries added nine points and nine rebounds for the Wizards.

The Wizards had lost seven of their last 10 games before last night but remain in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Realizing his team still had a good shot at homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs, Jordan challenged the team not to squander its fast start to the season.

“We talked about if you really care about trying to accomplish what we are trying to accomplish, then we are going to have to play a certain way,” he said. “Guys are going to have to give more.”

As poorly as the Wizards have played of late, they didn’t appear to have to overextend themselves against the Lakers (32-30).

Washington led by as many as 19 points in the third quarter. The Lakers cut the lead to 83-74 with a little more than six minutes to go, but a 9-2 Wizards’ spurt restored their lead to 15 points. The Lakers, trying to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time since 1994, never really challenged again.

Caron Butler led the Lakers with 20 points and 11 rebounds.

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