- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Washington Wizards, after being involved in an outrageous parsing of numbers for playoff seeding, cleared their path to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference after beating the Milwaukee Bucks 116-103 last night in the playoff atmosphere at Verizon Center.

The Wizards can ensure themselves of the No. 5 spot with a win over — gasp — the Detroit Pistons tonight at the Palace of Auburn Hills, where Detroit is 37-3.

Daunting as that sounds, those same Pistons — owners of the best record in the league and guaranteed home-court advantage for all of the playoffs, rested their key players two nights ago in a 113-93 loss to the Bucks, a scenario the Wizards no doubt hope will replay itself tonight.

“Our focus is just like tonight,” Washington’s Gilbert Arenas said after he posted 43 points. “We know they are going to be resting their guys, but we can’t lay down for that because we need that win. This is our destiny and we have it in our hands. So If we want to get the fifth spot, we have to go out there and play like it.”

Even if the Wizards don’t win tonight, they still can be the fifth seed if Chicago loses. If they lose and the Bulls and Pacers win, then they would be seeded seventh and headed to Miami. There also is a scenario where they can fall to sixth and play at New Jersey.

But last night the Wizards were more concerned with regaining their footing in the fourth quarter after being blitzed in the third by a team that had twice beaten them in their only other meetings of the season.

The Wizards (41-40) had to withstand a career-high 43 points by Milwaukee’s Michael Redd — 23 of which came in the third quarter — and they had recover from giving up a season-high 39 points to the Bucks in the third.

“[Redd] was hitting shots and he didn’t even need to look at the basket it seemed,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “We had to switch out on him and get him off of his rhythm. Once we did, it worked out OK.”

Indeed it did. Redd shot 1-for-4 from the field in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Arenas — who like Redd scored 31 points in the second half — continued to play well. He scored 16 points in the fourth quarter when the Wizards limited the Bucks to just 5-for-14 shooting.

“They made some key plays that got them the lead again and they held onto the lead from that point on,” Redd said. “In the fourth, Gilbert made some big plays and got to the free-throw line. He’ a great player, but we still had opportunities to get the fifth seed. I am glad to be in the playoff, but anyone in this locker room who says he’s just happy to be in the playoffs is lying.”

The Bucks (40-42), who clinched a playoff spot before the Wizards, led for the last time at 90-89. Arenas then scored on a layup that began a 13-3 Wizards’ run that put the lead safely at 102-93 with 7:15 left.

The Wizards’ “Big Three” carried the load for them. Antawn Jamison finished with 28 points and nine rebounds. Caron Butler added 22 points and nine rebounds as the Wizards outrebounded the Bucks 42-36.

“We said there were three keys to victory,” Jordan said. “We wanted to defend Redd, we wanted to rebound and be physical.”



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