For one night, almost everything was right at MCI Center. Fourth-year forward Kwame Brown played for the first time this season, Coach Eddie Jordan was back on the bench after missing two games because of a blood clot in his left leg, and the Washington Wizards finally put a team away, recording their most lopsided win of the season, 95-68 against the New Jersey Nets last night.
The key word is almost. Because while the Wizards won for the fifth time in six games to improve to 8-5 -- just a half-game behind Miami and Orlando for first place in the Southeast Division -- Brown was ejected with 6 minutes 48 seconds remaining and the Wizards up by 20 points after he got into an altercation with Nets center Jason Collins.
Wizards forward Kwame Brown, left, battles New Jersey's Alonzo Mourning during his season debut. Brown, who had recovered from a broken bone in his foot, contributed six points and two rebounds in 14 minutes as the Wizards improved to 8-5.
(Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
Jordan had been monitoring Brown's minutes and, with the result of the game no longer in doubt, he called on center Brendan Haywood to substitute for him. Before Haywood could get in, Brown got tangled with Collins, exchanged words and began pointing his finger at Collins. Official Sean Corbin assessed double technical fouls to both players and Brown grabbed a towel and stormed toward the locker room.
"I think the refs overreacted," said Brown, who had six points and two rebounds in 14 minutes. "I'm like, 'Look, it's basketball, dude. If you're going to play dirty, I'm going to give you some back.' I gave him a shot. It's only so long that I'm going to take getting held and grabbed before I take a shot back."
The incident appeared to raise Jordan's blood pressure as he argued with Corbin to no avail. "I don't think he deserved to be tossed," Jordan said. "For talking?" And, even with his team trouncing the Nets, Jordan remained uncomfortable until the horn sounded. "I saw [Nets Coach] Lawrence Frank coaching those guys hard. I had to bring my guys in to close it out."
Guard Gilbert Arenas scored a season-high 30 points, forward Antawn Jamison had 18 points and nine rebounds, guard Larry Hughes had 15 points and nine assists and Haywood had 13 rebounds.
Hughes, coming off his first career triple-double, had nine assists but his string of six consecutive games with at least 20 points came to an end. Hughes was most valuable, however, on the defensive end, where he had four steals and put the clamps on Richard Jefferson, who came into the game averaging 22.2 points for the Nets (3-12).
Jefferson missed all six of his shots and scored a season-low seven points. Arenas had to chuckle at the performance of his former Arizona teammate. Jefferson "was talking trash to me earlier because I was 0 of 4 up there and had seven points" on Nov. 20 in New Jersey, Arenas said. "He came around and had the same thing -- 0 of 6 and he had seven points. I got to call him tonight and tell him what a great job he did."
The Wizards held the Nets to all-time franchise lows in assists (seven) and field goals (20). After being swept by the Nets last season, the Wizards have given their coach two consecutive wins against the team for which he spent four seasons as an assistant coach.
Brown, the former No. 1 pick who has been out since August after having surgery to repair a broken bone in his right foot, entered the game to a resounding ovation from the fans, who saw a much heavier Brown on the court. He looked rusty early on. The first time he got the ball in the post, Brown lost the ball off the backboard. "My timing was off," he said. "Like I said, I've been out a long time."
Brown scored his first basket in the third period, hitting a turnaround jumper over Collins to give the Wizards a 57-42 lead.
Jordan spent the past week in a bed at Sibley Memorial Hospital. He was released at 10 a.m. and was back on the sideline, where he was screaming words of encouragement, applauding hustle plays and occasionally taking out his frustration with a light tap on the scorers table. When Brown nearly slid into the basket support after making a driving layup, Jordan showed his sense of humor, saying, "He's got to learn to put the brakes on."
Afterward, Jordan said, "Physically, I felt a little tug in my calf, but that's going to happen."
He was encouraged by the progress he has seen. "We see how the Eastern Conference is shaping up early this season. We really have our confidence that we can be one of the top teams in the East."
Said Arenas: "Day in and day out, we don't think other teams can beat us if we play our game. We know what we can do, we just have to do it every night and make sure we don't get ahead of ourselves."