Friday, January 20, 2006

On Wednesday night the Orlando Magic ran circles around the Washington Wizards, scoring 62 points in the second half.

So last night the Wizards showed the New Orleans Hornets just how that feels, breezing in the second half of a 110-99 win at MCI Center.

The Wizards, who have won six of their past eight games, are also beginning to realize that they do, once again, have a Big Three.

Led by Gilbert Arenas’ game-high 33 points, the Wizards, for the third time in their last four games, had three players score 20-plus points. Antawn Jamison finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds, and Caron Butler had 24 points.

The Wizards (18-20) shot 52 percent and outrebounded the Hornets 45-32. In the fourth quarter, the Wizards shot 62.5 percent.

Impressive rookie Chris Paul led the Hornets (19-20) with 28 points and a game-high 11 assists.

Last night’s game was the first in a 12-game stretch in which the Wizards play nine home games. The Memphis Grizzlies (23-15) come to MCI Center tomorrow afternoon.

The Wizards haven’t been at the .500 mark since they were 8-8 after a 119-111 overtime victory against Toronto on Dec. 8.

Washington began the fourth quarter by making eight of its first 11 shots to finish off the Hornets.

The best moment came on a fastbreak in which Arenas — catching a glimpse of a trailing Butler — dished the ball to him for a thunderous, one-handed dunk.

On the next play, Antonio Daniels rammed home a dunk, and Arenas, who scored 30 points for the 19th time this season, hit a 3-pointer for a 108-102 lead, forcing the Hornets to use a timeout.

“I just think that chemistry is always big, and once chemistry starts coming together, it’s a beautiful thing,” Butler said. “Now you’re seeing it. We went through a lot of adversity after winning early on, and now we’re starting to roll.”

Butler said his dunk was a product of that chemistry.

“That’s one thing about chemistry — knowing where you’re teammate is,” he said. “In practice [Arenas] always knows that I’m following him. He just flipped it back and made a great play.”

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan made special mention of the chemistry that is starting to emerge between Arenas, Butler and Daniels, who finished in double figures (11) for the seventh straight game.

“They are meshing a little bit better,” he said. “With Antonio in there, they are making plays, playing off the dribble, and they are aware of their spacing. It has taken awhile to get to this point where we have a good feel for each other.”

Completely outgunned in the second half of their loss Wednesday in Orlando, when the Magic outscored them 62-47 in the second half, the Wizards started the game by making just a tad below 60 percent of their field goals for a 32-21 first-quarter lead.

But rather than pounce on the Hornets, the Wizards’ energy waned and the Hornets got back into the game.

Rasual Butler, acquired from Miami in the offseason, went scoreless in the first quarter but was deadly in the second when he hit five of seven shots for 12 points.

Down by double figures for most of the second quarter, Butler drilled a 3-pointer that pulled the Hornets to within 47-39 with 4:09 left in the half.

That was part of a 20-9 Hornets’ second quarter run that cut Washington’s halftime lead to 58-54.

Note — The Wizards played their second consecutive game without the services of reserve center Etan Thomas, who left the team in Orlando after receiving the news Wednesday that his grandmother died.

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