- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 28, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - Gilbert Arenas nearly had a heroic finish to his first game in almost a year. Instead, it was Kwame Brown _ of all people _ who blocked Agent Zero’s shot in the final seconds to help preserve the Detroit Pistons’ 98-96 victory over the Washington Wizards.

With 4.5 seconds remaining Saturday and the Wizards trailing by two, Arenas chased down the rebound of his missed own free throw. He whirled to put up a potential game-winning 3-pointer, but former Wizards flop Brown got a hand on the shot. Caron Butler then grabbed the ball and missed a baseline jumper at the buzzer, and the Pistons escaped with a victory that sent their tenuous playoff hopes _ at least temporarily _ headed back in the right direction.

Arenas finished with 15 points and 10 assists in 30 minutes in his first game since April 27, 2008. The three-time All-Star had missed 156 of his team’s previous 173 games, including playoffs, thanks to a knee injury that spawned two overeager comeback attempts and three surgeries over an 18-month span.

Richard Hamilton, back after missing six games with a left groin injury, scored 16 of his 31 points in the third quarter as the Pistons broke a three-game losing streak. Detroit had lost six of its previous seven, including five of six without Hamilton, and is teetering precariously in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The win moved the Pistons within percentage points of Chicago for seventh place.

Hamilton made 11 of his season-high 29 attempts and seemed to put the game comfortably in Detroit’s favor by camping out along the baseline for wide open 3-pointers in the third period. The Pistons led by as many as 15 in the third before the Wizards rallied, feeding off the energy of younger players such as Javaris Crittenton, Nick Young, Dominic McGuire and JaVale McGee and the presence of Arenas.

Arenas was determined to make sure he was completely healthy before attempting another comeback, especially with Washington mired in last place in the East. His knee seemed to pose him no problem. He hit the floor several times and was never slow getting up, even when he was tripped by Rodney Stuckey during a drive to the basket in the fourth quarter.

Arenas started the game strong, with an assist to Andray Blatche for the Wizards’ first bucket, a lob to Dominic McGuire for a dunk for the next score, another dish to Blatche on the next trip down and a feed to Butler on basket No. 4. Arenas then hit an open 3-pointer to complete his team’s 11-2 start.

But Arenas didn’t have a hand in another basket for the rest of the half. He sat down after 10 minutes and didn’t return until the second of the second half. He played the entire third quarter, shooting 2-of-6 with three assists.

When he returned in the fourth, Arenas made a behind-the-back pass to McGuire in transition set up a dunk that gave the Wizards an 87-86 lead and brought the fans to their feet.

Hamilton’s 3-pointer gave the Pistons a 94-89 lead with 2:10 to play, but the Wizards were back within one after Arenas’ nice bounce pass set up Blatche’s dunk with 26 seconds left. Hamilton made both free throws with 5 seconds left to make the score 98-95.

Hamilton then fouled Arenas immediately after Washington inbounded the ball. Arenas made the first and missed the second, setting up the frantic finish and the block by Brown, the former No. 1 overall Wizards draft pick who was one of the biggest disappointments in franchise history.

Jamison scored 21 points to lead the Wizards. Blatche had 15.

Notes:@ The Pistons remain without forward Rasheed Wallace, who missed his 10th straight game with a strained left calf, and guard Allen Iverson, who sat for the 16th in a row with a sore back. Coach Michael Curry said both players will be back for Tuesday’s game at Cleveland, and that Iverson might play against Philadelphia on Sunday. … Wizards F Darius Songaila (sprained neck) and G Juan Dixon (right ankle tendinitis) did not suit up.

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