- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — It was hard to imagine a situation more bleak than the one facing the Washington Wizards last night.

Washington’s best player, Gilbert Arenas, was so sick he couldn’t even leave the team hotel. Center Brendan Haywood, recently moved into a backup role, couldn’t play. And the venue, Sacramento’s Arco Arena, hasn’t exactly been the friendliest for the Wizards.

None of that seemed to matter to the short-handed Wizards, however. Washington defeated the Kings 97-84, ending an eight-game losing streak at Arco Arena dating to Dec. 19, 1996.

The Wizards (37-33) improved to 3-1 on this six-game road trip and moved 1-1/2 games in front of Indiana for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

Caron Butler, who left the game in the third quarter to get six stitches in his forehead, finished with 23 points and nine rebounds.

Antawn Jamison added 17 points and eight rebounds, and Antonio Daniels finished with 17 points and seven assists.

With a short bench, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan turned to little-used Billy Thomas, who might not be so little-used after last night. He responded with a heady performance that included 14 points, tying a career high, on 5-for-10 shooting.

Center Etan Thomas, in his second start, finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, and Jared Jeffries finished with eight points, seven rebounds and a career-high five blocked shots.

Mike Bibby led the Kings (35-36) with 20 points.

Butler had to leave the game when he was clobbered by Sacramento’s Kenny Thomas while trying to make a layup with 3:11 left in the third quarter and the Wizards up 66-61.

The play resulted in a foul and a second technical and ejection for Kenny Thomas. Butler, meanwhile, took his free throws to give the Wizards a 68-61 lead. He left the game but returned early in the fourth quarter.

In the meantime, the Wizards got good play from other players — mainly Billy Thomas and Michael Ruffin.

Billy Thomas drilled a 3-pointer to give the Wizards a nine-point lead, and moments later Jeffries drilled a 19-footer to give the Wizards a 76-65 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Billy Thomas’s steal and ensuing fast break layup gave the Wizards an 84-71 lead with a little more than seven minutes to play in the game. The Kings never mounted a serious challenge after that.

Arenas, the fourth-leading scorer in the league at 28.9 points a game, was coming off one of his more impressive performances of the season, a 40-point, 10-assist performance that helped Washington to a relatively easy 116-98 win at Golden State the night before.

Last night’s game was just the second Arenas has missed this season.

The Wizards also were without the services of Haywood. Demoted to the bench the day before in Golden State, Haywood missed last night’s game with a strained lower back, which must have stiffened up during the six minutes he logged against the Warriors. Haywood watched the game dressed in street clothes.

Daniels started his 13th game of the season in place of Arenas.

The Wizards played well enough to lead 52-51 at the end of the half, and surprisingly, it was Haywood’s absence that was noticed first.

Just three minutes into the second half, Etan Thomas picked up his fourth foul, forcing the Wizards to go with Ruffin for extended minutes.

The Kings took an early 11-5 lead on Kenny Thomas’ bucket with just under eight minutes to play in the first quarter.

But the Wizards rallied back and took over the lead shortly thereafter.

Butler, who scored six points in the quarter, had the sweetest play of the night, a layup that gave the Wizards a 24-19 lead. On the play, Butler, driving down the center of the lane, put the ball behind his back, looking much like he was going to pass the ball. But to the surprise of everyone in Arco, Butler brought the ball back in front of him and finished the play with a little more than a minute left in the first.

It was Butler, in fact, who filled the scoring void left by Arenas in the first half.

After scoring six points in the first, Butler carried the Wizards with 13 in the second, and it’s a good thing he did. The Wizards made just seven of 19 field goals in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, the Kings turned up their play dramatically, making 12 of 17 field goals in the second quarter.

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