- The Washington Times - Monday, February 13, 2006

The Washington Wizards found the perfect way to finish a flawless homestand.

Gilbert Arenas scored 27 points, and Caron Butler added 21 as the Wizards defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 107-97 yesterday at MCI Center to complete a 5-0 homestand.

“We said this was going to define our season,” guard Jared Jeffries said. “We said if we could make a big run over these five games, it could propel us into the second half of the season.”

Washington (26-23) won its seventh in a row at home, where it will not play again until after the All-Star break. The Wizards visit Oklahoma City tonight and Dallas on Wednesday before the weekend festivities in Houston.

Allen Iverson scored 33 points, and Chris Webber had 24 for Philadelphia (24-26), which lost its third straight.

It was another solid day for Arenas, Butler and Antawn Jamison, a group that has jelled in the last six weeks. Jamison had 18 points in the victory, the Wizards’ 13 in their last 17 games.

“It takes a while to learn each other. Sometimes people don’t realize that,” Arenas said. “We’ve added six new pieces, and it’s not that easy trying to get along in this league. Now that we’re together, you can see we’re a playoff team.”

The homestand helped legitimize that claim, taking the Wizards from below .500 to the fifth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Washington slipped past Indiana (which lost to San Antonio yesterday) in the standings and moved three games above .500 for the first time since they were 5-2.

Antonio Daniels had 17 points, one shy of a season high, and Brendan Haywood added six points, nine rebounds and four blocks to help the Wizards build a 21-point lead late in the third quarter.

“The top seven guys really did it for us [during the homestand],” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “They executed their roles and played at a high level. That’s how good basketball teams win, when the top guys play at the highest level.”

The game unfolded much as the Sixers’ last visit to MCI last month, a 104-76 rout on Jan. 16 that actually was close at halftime. Yesterday, the Wizards quickly pushed a 52-46 edge at the break into double-digits after Butler banked in a jumper, fed Jeffries for a dunk and then hit a 3-pointer.

The lead remained around a dozen for much of the next five minutes. Iverson appeared ready to cut it to 11 when Jeffries swatted a layup attempt and Jamison hit a 3-pointer in transition at the other end.

The basket, which bumped the Wizards’ lead to 72-56, provided three of Washington’s 33 fastbreak points. Jamison’s shot also prompted a timeout from Philadelphia coach Maurice Cheeks and energized a crowd that was announced as a sellout but fell short of capacity thanks to the snowstorm.

“We have to get everybody warmed up after all that snow out there,” Jordan said. “We had to generate some heat in the house.”

Despite a typically prolific day from Iverson, the league’s second-leading scorer, the Sixers couldn’t put together much of a rally. Philadelphia couldn’t close within double-digits until the final minutes of the game, making a relatively easy Wizards victory look closer than it was.

By that point, Washington’s biggest concerns were figuring out what do with the shot clock and game clock separated by less than a second in the final moments (it accepted the violation) and leaving MCI in time to catch a flight to Oklahoma City. There, the Wizards hope the boost of the perfect homestand can translate into a road victory.

“We like to get these victories the way we got them,” Daniels said. “None of them have been easy. We fought down to the wire, we had to come back on some teams. It’s good to take this momentum on the road.”

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