Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Although it might be premature to pick a defining moment for a season not even at its halfway point, Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan isn’t afraid to point to one every chance he gets.

And after the Wizards extended their winning streak to a season-high four games with a 104-76 thrashing of the Philadelphia 76ers yesterday at MCI Center, Jordan did just that.

“It was a collective effort, and we’re just riding the momentum that we started three games ago,” Jordan said, referring to a 103-72 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 11 in which he benched Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood. “Everyone has responded from three games ago, and we’re just riding the wave right now.”

That wave resulted in the Wizards (17-19) posting their third-largest victory this season while holding the second-highest scoring team in the league 26 points below its average.

In a perfect display of how manic the NBA season can be, less than two weeks ago president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld was asked about Jordan’s job security after the Wizards had lost 17 of 24 games, including horrible routs by Houston and New York. But now, without warning, they’re blowing away opponents by 31 and 27 points.

“We’re just getting fed up with all the questions, all the doubters,” Jamison said. “Deep down inside, we know we’re a pretty good team. We just haven’t played up to our abilities. And now we feel like there is still a lot of room for improvement. But we still know we haven’t accomplished anything. We know we’re still under .500. But it’s good to see some progress, and it’s good to see some positivity in the locker room.”

Making his second start since being benched, Jamison turned it on in a third quarter that proved the difference. After going 1-for-9 in the first half and scoring four points, Jamison contributed 13 points in the third on his way to a 21-point, 10-rebound game.

With Jamison looking like his old self, the Wizards rode his energy to a 35-17 scoring advantage in the period to turn a two-point halftime advantage into an 82-62 lead heading into the fourth.

Caron Butler continued his string of strong games with 23 points and also was largely responsible for the defense on Ashton Kutcher look-alike Kyle Korver, who was scoreless in 28 minutes.

Haywood finished with his best game in weeks, scoring 12 points and grabbing 11 of Washington’s 55 rebounds. The Wizards outrebounded the 76ers (18-19) by 15.

An expected shootout between Gilbert Arenas and Allen Iverson never developed. However, Arenas had the superior game, finishing with 22 points on 6-for-12 shooting. More important, though, he had a season-high 12 assists while committing just one turnover in 38 minutes.

“He’s got a good feel now about seeing the floor and knowing where his teammates are,” Jordan said. “And he’s got a lot more confidence in his teammates. He knows it’s bad basketball to try to go one-on-three.”

Iverson, meanwhile, was never a factor, shooting 6-for-20 to finish with 17 points, 16 below his average (33.7). Andre Iguodala led the 76ers with 18 points, and former Wizards star Chris Webber finished with nine points and three rebounds.

“We couldn’t stop them,” Iverson said. “We got beat in every aspect of the game.”

Note — Wizards reserve guard Chucky Atkins returned to the team but was not on the active roster because he violated the NBA dress code by not showing up in a sports coat, a team spokesman said. Atkins missed the previous four games while spending time in Orlando, Fla., with his wife, who recently gave birth to their first son.

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