- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Caron Butler sounded like an old man settling into his easy chair.

“You know how it is,” the Wizards forward said. “There’s no place like home. Nowhere like it.”

When it comes to winning basketball games, that is the case for Washington.

The Wizards (21-16) enter tonight’s home game against New York (17-22) having won their last eight games at Verizon Center. At 15-3 this season, Washington’s home record is the franchise’s best since the Baltimore Bullets began the 1968-69 season 18-3.

The Wizards’ last home loss came Dec. 9 against Houston. That night, Gilbert Arenas’ 41 points simply weren’t enough to overcome Yao Ming’s 38. The center scored 23 of his points in the fourth quarter and demonstrated why he might be the best center in the league today.

A win against the Knicks tonight would tie the Verizon Center record for consecutive home wins — nine — a mark set last year, coincidentally, with a win over the Knicks.

Following practice yesterday, most of the conversation was related to Arenas’ 51-point effort Monday, which included a buzzer-beating 25-footer that clinched Washington’s 114-111 victory over the Utah Jazz.

But Wizards coach Eddie Jordan wants his team to keep something else in mind tonight. He wants them to remember that, despite being at home, they had to step up their defense dramatically in the second half to overcome the 16-point hole they had dug for themselves against Utah.

“We can’t get overconfident, and we have to stay humble,” Jordan said. “We’ve been successful at home, but you want them to remember how you won. We dug down deep in the third quarter and ran the offense. We took care of the paint, and we stepped up and rebounded.

“Now is not the time to get so high and beat your chest riding on eight wins at home. Now is definitely not the time to beat your chest.”

Washington and Cleveland are tied for the best home record in the East, and like every year, protecting the homecourt is a crucial ingredient for success.

Only Dallas and Phoenix — both 17-3 at home going into last night — have better home records than Washington.

“We have all the confidence in the world that we can beat anybody at home on any given night,” reserve forward Jarvis Hayes said. “We go into games here expecting to win.”

Despite the Knicks’ record, the Wizards can’t afford to take New York for granted. While several headlines this season have predicted the franchise’s further demise under coach Isiah Thomas, the Knicks own a .500 record over the last 10 games.

Center Eddy Curry has emerged as one of the better big men in the East, averaging 19.1 points and 7.3 rebounds. And the Knicks in recent games have gotten decent play out of point guard Stephon Marbury (25.7 points and 6.3 assists in the last three outings).

It will be interesting to see how former Wizards forward Jared Jeffries is received by fans in his return to Verizon Center. The Wizards refused to match the five-year, $30 million deal the Knicks offered him last summer.

Not known as one of the more basketball savvy arenas in the league, former Wizards like Larry Hughes and Jerry Stackhouse have been the target of jeers whenever they return to the District.

“I hope he gets a good [reception]” Butler said. “He did some good things for this organization. I think he’ll get a good reception. He deserves it. He worked his tail off while he was here. I hope it’s good for him because he did some good things for this organization. … But after that it’s all business.”

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