- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2006

LOS ANGELES — As the start of the game at Staples Center between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Washington Wizards drew close last night, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan leaned against a wall next to his team’s locker room and talked longingly about how good it would be for the team to start its first West Coast road trip with a rare win here.

Anyone who stayed up late enough knows Jordan got his wish — with a huge assist from Gilbert Arenas.

Arenas turned in perhaps the best performance of his career, breaking the franchise scoring record with 60 points to lead the Wizards to a 147-141 victory. The previous record was 56, set by Earl Monroe on Feb. 13, 1968, also against the Lakers.

Arenas had 29 points at the end of the third quarter. Guarded mostly by Kobe Bryant (45 points), he proceeded to score 31 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. Arenas also attempted a franchise-record 27 free throws, making 21. He finished with eight rebounds and eight assists and shot 17-for-32 from the field.

The Wizards led by 17 in the first half and 14 in the fourth quarter. But the Lakers put up 46 points in the fourth quarter and forced overtime on reserve forward Brian Cook’s 3-pointer with a little less than six seconds to play, sending the game to overtime tied at 126-126.

After losing a franchise-record eight road games to start the regular season, the Wizards turned things around a little more than a week ago when they put together back-to-back road wins at lowly New York and Philadelphia.

While those wins were predictable because of the opponents’ struggles, the Lakers presented a much different challenge.

Of course, they are from the significantly better Western Conference. But part of the Lakers early success has to be tied to the fact they have played so many games at home, venturing away from Staples Center just seven times this season.

The Lakers have pretty much owned the Wizards in Los Angeles, winning 12 of the last 13 games played here. Washington’s last win here before last night was Dec. 17, 2004, when the Wizards earned a 120-116 overtime victory.

Although the Lakers were off Saturday, they played a grueling double-overtime game against Houston on Friday, which they won 112-101. In that game, the Lakers got a season-high 53 points out of Kobe Bryant. However, they had to overcome a 21-point deficit to win. Last night, the Lakers’ rally fell short.

Playing a good first half on the road, the Wizards put the Lakers in a similar spot. They made 51.2 percent of their shots in the first half and played some of their best basketball late in the second quarter.

With the Lakers trailing by 10 points, the Wizards responded by sandwiching two Brendan Haywood baskets around a 3-pointer by Antawn Jamison (25 points) for a 59-42 lead, their largest of the night, with a little less than a minute to play in the half.

After scoring 16 points in the first half, Bryant started to catch fire in the third quarter. Guarded mostly by DeShawn Stevenson, he went for 16 points in the quarter to help the Lakers cut the lead to seven points.

But it was still 10 at the start of the fourth quarter, and with Bryant on the bench until the 8:29 mark of the period, the Wizards built their lead to 103-87 on a pair of Arenas free throws.

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