- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

ATLANTA — Even short-handed, this was exactly the type of beating the Washington Wizards are supposed to administer these days.

Playing one of their most balanced games in quite some time, the Wizards scorched a bad Atlanta team 122-93 in front of an announced crowd of 12,848 at Philips Arena. Washington used an 18-0 run early in the fourth quarter to pull away from the Hawks, the NBA’s worst team.

The victory marked the first time in more than a month Washington has won consecutive games and gave it sole possession of the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland fell a game off the pace last night with a 96-88 loss to Milwaukee, the Wizards’ opponent tomorrow.

The 122 points are the most the Wizards (35-27) have scored and the most the Hawks (11-53) have allowed this season. Washington’s 59.7 percent shooting from the field also was a season’s best.

In the fourth quarter alone, the Wizards made 82.4 percent (14-for-17), allowing them to outscore Atlanta 42-20. Washington held Atlanta without a field goal for close to seven minutes in the fourth quarter.

“At the beginning of the fourth quarter we really picked our concentration up,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “Our defense picked up, and we created some more turnovers, which is our game, and we kind of broke this thing open.

In just about every way possible.

Gilbert Arenas led the Wizards with 29 points, four assists and four steals, and backcourt mate Larry Hughes finished with 23 points, seven assists and six steals.

The third member of Washington’s Big Three, Antawn Jamison, missed his second game of the season because of tendinitis in his right knee, so the Wizards turned to other inside players in his stead, and they responded.

Brendan Haywood (nine points), Jared Jeffries (14), Kwame Brown (13) and reserve center Etan Thomas (15) combined to shoot 20-for-27 from the field and score 51 points.

“We need something from them every night. We need for them to be consistent with what they do, and that’s rebound the ball and protect the basket,” Hughes said. “And if they score, they score. We’ll get them touches. But our concern is for them to play defense and control the basket. If they do that, things will come their way.”

Even reserve guard Steve Blake got in on the bloodletting. Blake finished with a season-high 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting.

After all, it was the Hawks, the NBA’s version of the gift that keeps on giving.

Atlanta turned the ball over 20 times, and the Wizards capitalized, converting them into 27 points. The Hawks, led by reserve guard Tony Delk’s 16 points, lost for the 19th time in 20 games. Atlanta’s starters combined for just 39 points. And speaking of starters, former Wizards and Maryland standout Obinna Ekezie is the Hawks’ starting center.

Washington recognized a sizable height advantage along the frontline — the 6-foot-11 Jeffries was its shortest starter on the unit — and took advantage. The Wizards collected 22 of their 28 points in the first quarter inside the paint.

The Wizards led by eight headed into the second quarter, but on a rainy night in Georgia against a team as bad as any in North American professional sports, the Wizards apparently couldn’t resist the temptation to play down to the level of the competition.

Atlanta showed signs of life in the second quarter, pulling even on a basket by Jason Collier.

With neither Arenas nor Hughes having a particularly great first half, Blake helped right the Wizards before halftime. He swished back-to-back 3-pointers as part of an 8-0 Washington run and three of four 3s overall for 10 points in the first half to help the Wizards lead 49-44 at the break.

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