- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2007

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — If the New Jersey Nets could get these kind of nights out of their reserves on a regular basis, they probably wouldn’t be concerned with battling for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

More likely, they’d be contending for the conference crown.

With forward Bostan Nachbar scoring 16 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, the Nets got 51 points from their bench and saw three players score at least 23 points in a 113-101 rout of the injury-depleted Washington Wizards last night at Continental Airlines Arenas.

Gilbert Arenas led the Wizards (31-24) with 26 points, and the Wizards got season highs out of Jarvis Hayes (21 points) and Roger Mason Jr. (18). But the Nets (28-30), who moved into a tie for the eighth spot in the East with the win, had too much.

Not only did New Jersey set a franchise record for 3-pointers made (16-for-32), but the Nets got 27 points from Vince Carter and 26 points and nine assists from Jason Kidd.

The Wizards finished winless on their three-game road trip, which began Friday in Chicago. For the second game in a row the Wizards were without the services of starting forwards Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler. Washington also played without backup forward/center Michael Ruffin, who experienced some dizziness in warmups.

However, Jamison could rejoin the Wizards tonight when they play host to the Miami Heat. Jamison has missed the last 12 games with a sprained left knee, and Washington has gone 5-7 without him.

While the official word is that Jamison will still be out for the next few games — Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said so before the game — a few players said they expect to have Jamison back in the lineup tonight when the Heat come to Verizon Center.

“People like Jarvis and Roger are stepping up,” said Arenas, who went 7-for-25 from the field against the Nets. “We get Antawn back tomorrow, so we should definitely have more firepower.”

While Jordan was adamant that Jamison is not ready, there was some speculation that had the team not been playing the first game of a back-to-back set, Jamison — whom the team no doubt will have examined again today by team doctors — might have played last night.

“That’s up to doctors,” Jamison said.

Butler missed his second game in a row with a lower back injury.

The Nets also were short a key player, having played without starting center Nenad Kristic since he suffered a torn ACL against the Los Angeles Lakers in late December. But New Jersey has grown accustomed to playing without him.

The Wizards were very much alive in the fourth quarter, holding an 84-83 lead after Hayes gave them the lead on a turnaround jumper with just under 10 minutes to play. But that basket also appeared to signal that the Wizards had hit the wall, because the Nets outscored them 30-17 the rest of the way.

The Nets’ combination of 3s and the outburst by their bench at crucial times — reserves were responsible for 23 of New Jersey’s 34 points in the fourth quarter — proved too much for the Wizards to overcome.

“We knew their bench was strong,” Jordan said. “Part of our game plan was bench versus bench. We put all of that on the white board before the game, bench versus bench. Who is going to make shots? Who is going to rebound?”

Jordan was not totally solemn after the defeat, though. He and the Wizards remain confident that once they regain full health, they’ll return to form as the lethal team that was 10 games above .500 right before dropping three straight.

Despite the losses, the Wizards have gotten decent play out of Andray Blatche and Mason, and now Hayes has finally demonstrated some much-needed confidence.

“We’re working through some things right now,” Jordan said. “But guys are stepping up. Hopefully, this will help us down the road.”

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