- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Until Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan sees Antawn Jamison healthy and ready to go, he’ll continue to challenge different players on his team. He’ll do everything in his power to prod them to make more of a contribution than they have, in the best way that they can.

Last night, DeShawn Stevenson and Andray Blatche — the veteran so used to starting and the second-year player who is still trying to figure out the NBA — accepted that challenge in a 112-100 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves at Verizon Center.

Stevenson, one of just three players to start all 51 games for the Wizards (30-21) this season, scored a season-high 23 points on 9-for-11 shooting. Blatche led the Wizards in rebounding for the third time in the last four games.

“We got contributions pretty much from everybody that played,” Jordan said. “To start the game, Andray looked phenomenal playing good defense and looking like an NBA player. And DeShawn made some timely plays and played some good defense on Ricky Davis. We pretty much played every situation as solid as we could play it.”

Gilbert Arenas led all scorers with 38 points, making 12 of 24 field goals and 13 of 15 free throws.

But it was Stevenson and Blatche who stepped up big on a night when the team’s second-leading scorer, forward Caron Butler, was held to just 15 points.

For Blatche, who matched his career high with 12 rebounds and added seven points, the game was one he’ll never forget. After all, he guarded his idol, Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett (26 points, 13 rebounds), and even talked some trash with the vocal All-Star he grew up watching.

“He is my favorite player in the NBA still and to come out and play well meant a lot to me. I’m excited and going to go home and watch the game over and over,” Blatche said with a laugh. “He was telling me that he’s about to come at me and pretty much he was trying to scare me. He could have gotten into my head.”

Stevenson heard Garnett talking to Blatche. It was Garnett’s trash talk, according to Stevenson, that provided motivation for him to take his game up a notch.

“You have Garnett out there talking and it gets you fired up,” Stevenson said. “I like playing with a guy like that.”

Stevenson knew that Blatche was facing a guy he grew up watching and idolizing, pointing out that he had to go through the same thing at one point.

“It’s not easy for a guy to do that. But at the same time it’s his job to play hard,” Stevenson said. “I think he did a great job out there on a limb. But as a team it’s time for us to start going out and playing like we did in the first half of the season when we were playing well. It’s almost playoff time.”

The Wizards’ victory coupled with New York’s victory over Orlando also extends Washington’s lead in the Southeast Division to 41/2 games.

Garnett got some help from his teammates but it wasn’t enough. Davis added 24 points and Mike James came off the bench to score 20 points for Minnesota (25-28).

But the Wizards , who made 39 of 77 field goals, were never threatened by the Timberwolves. Washington led by 15 points in the first half and by 16 in the third quarter.

Minnesota cut it to 104-98 on a pair of James free throws with 1:47 to play, but failed to come any closer.

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