- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The records continue to mount for the Washington Wizards — and so do their victories.

Playing at home for the first time in 11 days, the Wizards treated 18,778 fans to a Verizon Center all-quarters record 45 points in the first quarter and another record 77 in the first half last night on their way to a 116-101 rout of the Memphis Grizzlies.

In a game that wasn’t anywhere nearly as close as the final score suggested, the Wizards placed all five starters in double figures. As usual, Gilbert Arenas turned in a superb performance, finishing with a game-high 31 points on 9-for-13 shooting from the field. He also was 10-for-10 from the line and handed out a game-high seven assists in just 32 minutes.

Antawn Jamison finished with 26 points and nine rebounds; Caron Butler added 19 points, five rebounds, six assists and six steals; Brendan Haywood finished with a season-high 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds; and DeShawn Stevenson finished with 14 points as the Wizards (15-12) improved to 6-0 when all of their starters score in double figures.

Memphis (6-23) placed five players in double figures, led by Alexander Johnson’s career-high 23 points to go along with 10 rebounds.

The Wizards led by as many as 34 points with just less than nine minutes to play in the third quarter and by 28 at the end of the third.

“They are a very, very good team, and Eddie [Jordan] really has them playing great basketball,” Memphis coach Mike Fratello said. “They have a lot of people that can score. If they keep growing as they have over the last three weeks, they’re going to be a team to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference.”

The Wizards have pretty much undergone a transformation since they last met Memphis on Nov. 24, when the Grizzlies, playing without injured Pau Gasol, beat them 95-80. That night, a frustrated Arenas shot 1-for-12 from the field and finished with a season-low three points. But since then, the Wizards have won 11 of 14 games.

That, according to Jordan, was not accomplished without some soul-searching.

“We have the identity that we want and the personality and the demeanor that we want going into games,” said Jordan, who indicated that was not the case when the teams last met. “We’re approaching games with the right attitude. We’re not getting distracted and losing focus, and we’re understanding that that is how we want to play.”

Jordan is not one to give his team too much credit. Right now despite the recent success, he’s clearly not happy with the play of his bench. He’s looking for young guys like Donell Taylor, Andray Blatche and James Lang to start making contributions while the opportunity is there.

Regardless, Jordan knows that after wins last week over the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns, people are taking notice of his team.

“We got a lot of exposure last week,” Jordan said. “Now we’re [like] the Lakers and the Suns. People are going to start gunning for us. We’re going to have to start playing with a lot of energy and discipline, and we’re going to have to hold homecourt. Tonight for two-and-a-half quarters we played with energy and discipline.”

In those wins over the Lakers and the Suns, Arenas etched his name among this league’s elite, scoring a franchise-record 60 points against Los Angeles and 54 against the Suns in a pair of overtime games. Last night Arenas was needed for less than three quarters.

“If tonight’s game would have been a little bit closer, this could have been another game where he goes for 50 points,” Haywood said. “We go as Arenas goes, and tonight he was going.”

It was apparent immediately this meeting would be significantly different from the first. With Arenas scoring 17, the Wizards erupted for 45 points and shot 64.3 percent for the first 12 minutes, which ended with Washington leading by 27.

The Grizzlies outscored the Wizards 30-17 in the fourth quarter, in which they got as close as 106-94 with 4:03 left. By then, of course, it didn’t matter.

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