The Washington Wizards led the Milwaukee Bucks by 25 points at halftime last night, but after wasting a 22-point lead Friday, such an advantage offered very little comfort.
The Wizards took no more chances. Behind 31 points from guard Gilbert Arenas, Washington closed out the Milwaukee Bucks, 112-94, at MCI Center to end a four-game losing streak.
The Wizards' Steve Blake leads the break with Etan Thomas, left, and Jarvis Hayes, right, following behind.
(John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
Brendan Haywood is averaging 8.9 points per game this season, but that average has dipped to 4.2 in the past five games. Haywood, the Wizards' 7-foot starting center, attributes his diminished production in part to the absence of Larry Hughes, who broke his thumb Jan. 15.
"Larry Hughes getting hurt really hurt me a lot just because he was a guy who really looked for me," said Haywood, who had six points and six rebounds against the Raptors. "He's the best passer on the team. . . . We played a lot together this summer, and we had a chemistry. Without him being out there with his penetration where I got offense rebounds or him passing me the ball for easy dunks, things haven't been the same for me."
When told of Haywood's statements, Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan paused a moment to pick his words carefully.
"Let me think if I can get around that in a nice way," Jordan said. "It's on Brendan Haywood. He can't rely on Larry Hughes. Larry Hughes is not going to put a chair under [Haywood's] legs so he can block a shot coming down the lane. He's got to do it himself." . . .
Gilbert Arenas didn't need to be told how much his ejection meant during Friday night's loss to the Toronto Raptors. Arenas was thrown out with 4 minutes 39 seconds remaining in the third quarter for arguing with referee Bill Kennedy.
Without Arenas, who leads the team with 24.2 points per game, the Wizards surrendered a 22-point second-half lead, their biggest collapse of the season.
"It happened," Jordan said. "I didn't have to talk to him. He knows."
The Raptors outscored the Wizards, 44-26, after Arenas's ejection.
-- Greg Sandoval
_____ Wizards in '05 _____
Note: This is an unscientific survey of washingtonpost.com readers.
Arenas, who was ejected in the third quarter Friday night and watched his teammates collapse against the Toronto Raptors, posted 22 of his points in the first half last night and also scored the second four-point play of his career.
"I knew that if I came out with a point to prove and all angry, it would hurt my play," Arenas said. "I had a good first half against Toronto and I just tried to have a good first half tonight."
Arenas complemented the 12th 30-point game of his career with nine assists and six rebounds for the Wizards (27-19). Reserve Etan Thomas scored a career-high 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
At the end of the first quarter, the Wizards were up 32-19 as Arenas continued to push the ball up on the break and pass it off to one of the team's big men. The Wizards outscored the Bucks in the second quarter, 32-20, with Thomas scoring seven points mainly on dunks and layups near the basket.
"We need some production from the bench," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "It does not have to be a career high, but it needs to be executed in the offense by getting rebounds, protecting the paint and defending."
Arenas began to kick the Wizards into high gear with the club up 7-5. He sped the ball upcourt and found center Brendan Haywood racing to the basket. Haywood finished with a reverse dunk. The play was significant on two fronts: It demonstrated the playmaking skills the Wizards had missed the night before following Arenas's ejection, and it got Haywood involved in the game.
Haywood, who had averaged just 4.2 points in his previous five games during which he appeared to lack any passion, finished with 13 points and seven rebounds.
Before the game, Haywood blamed his recent lack of production on the return of Thomas, who was out most of the year with a severe abdominal strain, and on the absence of Larry Hughes, who he said passed to him more than any of the other Wizards players.
Jordan responded by saying Haywood had to take responsibility for his own play.
"Larry Hughes is not going to put a chair under his legs so he can block a shot coming down the lane," Jordan said. "He's got to do it himself."
The Wizards have gone 5-6 since Hughes broke his thumb on Jan 15. Not only do the Wizards miss Hughes's 21.2 points per game, but the loss of the 6-foot-5 guard has left a hole in the club's defense. Hughes's 2.8 steals per game is tops in the NBA.
Hughes said this week that he is hoping to return Feb. 23 against the Memphis Grizzlies.
At their best, the Wizards have a potent offense, even without Hughes. Washington is the NBA's third-highest scoring team with an average of 102 points per game. Thanks to Arenas, they scored in bunches last night.
Arenas's four-point play was his first since April 4 against the Boston Celtics, the last time any NBA player recorded such a play. In the second half, the Bucks' Michael Redd matched the feat with 4 minutes 22 seconds left to play. It was the first time there were two four-point plays in same game since the Indiana Pacers' Reggie Miller and Lindsay Hunter, then with the Bucks, did it on Nov. 8, 2000.
The Wizards, who give up a league-worst 101.7 points per game, held Milwaukee (17-28), one of the NBA's top three-point shooting teams, to 33.3 percent from behind the arc.
The Bucks, who have the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference, turned over the ball 23 times and were ineffective in the lane. The Wizards outrebounded the Bucks 40-35. Washington shot 49.4 percent over Milwaukee's defense.
The Wizards' winning ways returned just in time. Their next two opponents are Indiana tomorrow and the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.