- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Washington Wizards certainly have been looking for a boost lately, and last night they got one from an unusual source.

Led by shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson, the Wizards (38-32) ended their three-game losing streak and, temporarily at least, took back first place in the Southeast Division with a 111-108 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers at sold-out Verizon Center.

Washington was a half-game back of Miami entering the game, but the Heat lost to Toronto last night.

Stevenson, who entered with a 10.5-point average, scored 18 points in the first half and finished with a season-high 28 to lead the Wizards, who also got 20 points from Gilbert Arenas and 21 from Caron Butler in his first game back from injury.

Butler, who missed six games with a knee contusion, was the main attraction before the game. But it was Stevenson’s play that helped the Wizards regain their half-game lead over Miami (38-33) with 12 games left.

When the Wizards were flat — they fell behind by 10 points in the first quarter, drawing boos from the crowd — Stevenson injected life.

“It felt good to be out there making things happen tonight,” said Stevenson, whose previous season high was 23. “I went to the basket early, got into a rhythm and just kept shooting.”

Stevenson’s aggressiveness last night came partly because of coach Eddie Jordan, who has implored Stevenson to get more involved offensively since Antawn Jamison (14 points, 11 rebounds) suffered a knee injury Jan. 30.

“We indicated to him a few months ago that we wanted him to be more aggressive looking for his shot,” Jordan said. “Tonight he was really extraordinary at both ends.”

Butler, who added six rebounds and two steals, looked fine in his first game back — especially on his 79-foot 3-pointer from the 76ers’ free throw line to end the third quarter.

The basket capped a 62 percent shooting quarter for Washington and gave the team a 10-point lead heading into the final quarter.

The time off clearly helped Butler, who had his best offensive outing since he went for 25 points against Sacramento on Feb. 22.

“I felt good tonight. I surprised myself,” Butler said. “My teammates told me that all I had to do was to keep on running and pushing, and they would get me the ball and help to get my going in a rhythm. They did that. And I didn’t have too much trouble with my breath.”

The Wizards, meanwhile, had much trouble with the 76ers. Early on, it appeared the bad basketball plaguing their 1-4 Western Conference trip somehow made the flight back with them.

Philadelphia took a 6-0 lead to start the game and led 18-8 after Samuel Dalembert’s blocked shot led to a fastbreak dunk by Steven Hunter with just more than four minutes remaining.

But the 76ers have spent most of the season doing nothing to distinguish themselves, and their play at the end of the first quarter and into the second showed why.

The Wizards cut the lead to 25-22 to start the second quarter, in which Stevenson scored 10 of his first-half points.

Trailing 40-32 after two free throws by Louis Williams with eight minutes left, Washington dominated play the rest of the half and entered halftime with a 52-49 lead.

The Wizards built on that lead after halftime, holding a double-digit lead for much of the second half, including a 15-point advantage with 7:33 left.

But led by Andre Iguodala’s 26 points, 15 assists and seven rebounds, the 76ers roared back and tied the game at 101-101 on Kyle Korver’s 3-pointer with 2:07 left.

The Wizards never led by more than four points the rest of the way, and they had reason to be afraid when Iguodala pulled the Sixers (28-43) to within 109-108 on an open 3 with 5.7 seconds remaining.

Arenas extended the Wizards’ lead to 111-108 with a pair of free throws, and Iguodala’s 3-pointer missed as time ran out.

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