Thursday, January 11, 2007

Earlier this season the Washington Wizards struggled every time their best player, Gilbert Arenas, had an off game. Last night, though, Arenas’ rare subpar performance did nothing to slow down the team.

Antonio Daniels tied a season high with 15 points, and Jarvis Hayes scored all 10 of his points in the second half as the Wizards knocked off the Chicago Bulls 113-103 at Verizon Center. Arenas scored 20 points but made just five of 16 field goal attempts.

Daniels, who also drew a key charge from Ben Wallace, and Hayes weren’t the only contributors to the Wizards’ victory. Caron Butler scored a team-high 26 points and had 10 rebounds for his team-leading 14th double-double, Antawn Jamison added 18 points and nine rebounds and DeShawn Stevenson finished with 13 points.

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan considers the Bulls (20-16), who added four-time NBA defensive player of the year Wallace in the offseason, one of the best teams in the East, a message his players apparently received as well.

“It’s a big win for us because when we went there earlier this year they handed it to us,” Daniels said. “We’ve made a lot of improvements since we played them last, so I guess you could say that this was a statement game for us.”

In a game in which the Bulls erased a 14-point lead in the third quarter, Washington finally got the separation it needed in the fourth.

Up 82-80, the Wizards outscored the Bulls 14-2 over the next 3:14. And of those 14 points, Arenas’ only contribution was one 19-foot jumper.

“It shows that this is a good team with a lot of good players,” Arenas said. “We’ve got great chemistry, and it shows. We got good contributions from everyone — Caron; A.D.; Etan [Thomas] looked good coming back; Antawn.”

When the teams met Dec. 2 at United Center, the Wizards were a wreck on the road. Their 112-94 loss was their eighth in as many games away from home, setting a team record for road futility at the start of a season.

In that game, Arenas also struggled, finishing with just 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting.

The Wizards play their next two games Friday and Saturday — against New Orleans in Oklahoma City and then at San Antonio. They will go on the two-game trip with Thomas, who started the first 20 games at center, back in the rotation. He returned in a reserve role last night, getting five points and two rebounds in just less than 16 minutes.

Thomas was part of a Wizards’ bench that outscored the Bulls’ bench 32-30. Washington had gone 25 games — since Nov. 17 against the Detroit Pistons — without holding an advantage in bench points.

Kirk Hinrich paced the Bulls, scoring 24 of his game-high 33 in the second half. Ben Gordon came off the bench to score 25, and Andres Nocioni added 20.

Washington fell behind early but went on an 18-2 run to take a 20-13 lead with a little more than a minute left in the first quarter. The Wizards, who have won 16 of their last 21, won their seventh straight at Verizon Center.

“When the game got tight, they made the plays, and we just weren’t able to come up with something when we needed it,” Chicago coach Scott Skiles said. “I would be very disappointed in our guys if we weren’t aggressive tonight, but we were. They just hit tough shots.”

Skiles was not in the best of moods after the game, and that was partially because of how the first quarter ended. Hinrich was whistled for a foul after Arenas snagged a rebound three feet away from the Chicago basket.

The referee ruled that Arenas, who had grabbed a defensive rebound, was in the act of shooting a 90-footer with 2.1 seconds left.

The call resulted in Skiles springing from his chair and voicing his displeasure with the call. Whatever he said was bad enough to earn a technical foul, and Arenas made all four free throws for a 27-18 lead after one period.

“In the 20 years I’ve been in the league I’ve seen that shooting motion from hundreds of guys trying to get that call, and I’ve never seen it rewarded before,” Skiles said.

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