- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Washington Wizards completed a road trip through the Western Conference with a winning record for the first time in five years with a 114-106 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden.

Six players finished in double figures for the Wizards, who finished the trip 3-2. Gilbert Arenas led with 28 points, and Larry Hughes added 25.

With the victory, the Wizards finished the season with a 17-13 record against Western Conference teams. The last time the Wizards finished with a winning record on a trip west was March 2000, when they went 3-1.

In his second game starting in place of the injured Brendan Haywood, reserve center Etan Thomas finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds. He had 15 points and five rebounds in a 95-94 victory over the Seattle SuperSonics on Sunday.

Though Thomas no longer is coming off the bench, the reserves have remained productive. Juan Dixon came off the bench to score 13, and Laron Profit finished with 11.

The victory was crucial for the Wizards (39-30) because the teams behind them in the Eastern Conference also won last night. The Chicago Bulls captured their sixth straight victory with a 94-86 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies to stay a game back of the Wizards for fourth in the conference. The Cleveland Cavaliers stayed within 2 games of Washington with an overtime victory over the New Orleans Hornets. Washington has 13 games left in the regular season.

The Wizards were anything but consistent on the road trip. They were blown out last Tuesday by the Denver Nuggets, who have the NBA’s best record (14-1) since the All-Star break.

Two nights later, Washington needed a late jumper from Hughes and a strong defensive stand in the final seconds to hold on for a win over the woeful Utah Jazz. While a late rally fell short in a loss to the mediocre Los Angeles Clippers on Friday, the Wizards rebounded Sunday against the Sonics, who have the fourth-best record in the league.

This isn’t the same Portland organization that saw its string of 22 consecutive playoff berths come to a halt two years ago. This year the Blazers have fired a coach (Maurice Cheeks) and have struggled to a 24-45 mark after last night’s loss.

Last night, they were minus the services of starters Zach Randolph and Theo Ratliff and lost for the 14th time in 16 games. Shareef Abdur-Rahim scored 19 points to lead Portland.

Last night, the Wizards wanted to get off to a strong start against the lowly Blazers. But Portland, led by eight points from diminutive rookie point guard Sebastian Telfair, shot 60 percent from the field en route to a 28-24 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Arenas scored eight points in the second quarter to get the Wizards going against a Portland team that has had trouble maintaining a lead this season.

A fast-break layup by Arenas off a turnover tied the game at 37-37 with a little less than five minutes to play in the half. It started a 12-0 run that gave the Wizards a 47-37 lead on a 19-footer by Laron Profit with a little more than a minute remaining in the quarter.

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