- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2006

It has been a long time coming — much longer, in fact, than the players would have liked — but the Washington Wizards finally evened their record last night.

The Wizards got back to .500 for the first time in two months despite the absence of Jared Jeffries, who missed their 94-82 victory over the Orlando Magic at MCI Center (14,251) with a lower back contusion.

Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison, both hoping to be named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team this week for the second straight year, carried the Wizards’ offense. Arenas led Washington with a game-high 23 points and handed out eight assists. Jamison, meanwhile, notched his 24th double-double of the season with 21 points and 11 rebounds and matched his career high with six steals.

The Wizards also got a strong outing from the ever-improving Antonio Daniels, who finished with 16 points and six rebounds. Awvee Storey, who made his first career start in place of Jeffries, finished with four points and four rebounds.

At 23-23, the Wizards are only four games worse than at this point last year, when they finished fifth in the Eastern Conference.

“It just shows you that after all the turmoil we’ve been through, we are starting to pick it up, and we’re almost to the point where we were last year,” said Jamison, who early in the game pulled down his 4,000th career rebound. “It just shows a lot about the character of this team. We didn’t get to the point where we are giving up or the people upstairs are trying to disassemble this team. We believe that this is a pretty good team.”

The Wizards last were at .500 on Dec. 6, when they beat the Toronto Raptors in overtime to improve to 8-8. A victory over the Golden State Warriors tomorrow would give them a winning record for the first time since they beat the New Jersey Nets on Nov. 19 to move to 5-4.

Last night’s victory actually pushed Washington into a tie for seventh in the East with the Philadelphia 76ers. It also left the Wizards just a half-game out of the fifth spot, occupied by the Indiana Pacers, who will have to play the next six to eight weeks without Jermaine O’Neal, and the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Wizards’ outlook wasn’t so rosy early last month. A 97-89 loss to the Utah Jazz on Jan. 9 dropped Washington to 13-19, but a significant improvement on the defensive end has helped the Wizards win 10 of their last 14 games.

At one point, the Wizards were allowing more than 102 points a game. But the Wizards have given up more than 100 only three times in their last 15 games, which is why that number had fallen to 99.0 a game entering last night.

“The time when we made the change in the lineup was a true wake-up call,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said, referring to the two games in which he benched Jamison and Brendan Haywood in January. “It said that we’ve done enough with the X’s and the O’s and the repetitive talking, this and that and film work. Now it is time to change the people. When players see that, they say this is serious business.”

The Wizards proved how serious they are in the fourth quarter. As they had done two nights ago against the Atlanta Hawks, the Wizards allowed the Magic (19-27) to reduce a 15-point deficit to six by the end of the third quarter.

But Washington went on a 20-6 run to begin the fourth quarter and led by 20 with 4:31 left to hand Orlando its fifth loss in six games.

DeShawn Stevenson led the Magic with 20 points. Former Maryland guard Steve Francis, meanwhile, finished with five points, just one more than Storey.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide