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Wizards Forge a Modest Streak

Front Court Dominates, Arenas Has 29 in Second Straight Win: Wizards 122, Hawks 93

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 17, 2005; Page D01

ATLANTA, March 16 -- Washington Wizards guard Larry Hughes sprinted toward half court, reached out his hand to get his sixth steal against the Atlanta Hawks and exploded to the basket for a two-handed dunk. As he swung and hung on the rim, Hughes looked down to make sure he would have a safe landing.

"I wanted to make sure nothing happened, make sure nobody was under there," Hughes said after scoring 23 points during the Wizards' 122-93 win Wednesday night. "I didn't want to hurt an ankle. Gotta take care of my body."

Brendan Haywood takes the high road, helping the Wizards dominate inside despite missing injured all-star forward Antawn Jamison. (Gregory Smith -- AP)

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ATLANTA, March 16 -- Wizards forward Kwame Brown, a native of Brunswick, Ga., will be a restricted free agent this summer, and the Hawks will have more than $20 million in salary cap space. The Hawks are among a handful of teams expected to make a push for his services.

After scoring 13 points Wednesday night, Brown addressed the possibility of returning to his home state.

"Every place is an option," Brown said. "I think that takes away from your game when you think about money and contracts. Of course, you want to do the best job you can on the court and hope it'll take care of itself."

Brown turned down the Wizards' offer of a four-year contract extension worth $30 million before the season began. The Wizards can match any offer sheet Brown signs this summer.

"I'm just trying to take care of what I got to do on the court and make other teams interested," Brown said. "The more teams the better at this point." . . .

Considering the number of injuries the Wizards face, Coach Eddie Jordan said he was pleased to have "anybody" return to the lineup. But Jordan was excited to see reserve guard Juan Dixon back Wednesday after missing the past two games because of a sprained right ankle.

"Especially someone who can be effective from the perimeter," Jordan said. "That's what we're missing."

Dixon hasn't made a field goal since the Wizards' Feb. 15 game against Houston -- the game in which he suffered his injury -- going a combined 0 for 5 against Charlotte and New York.

"I probably came back too soon, but I thought it felt strong," Dixon said. "It feels good right now." . . .

Forward Antawn Jamison, out with right knee tendinitis, is traveling with the team to Atlanta and Milwaukee, where the Wizards play Friday, but is not expected to play.

"Because of his desire to get out there, we've got to be careful with" his injury, Jordan said. "We don't want him out there on one leg."

-- Michael Lee

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Hughes came down gracefully. And with the slew of injuries that have hit the Wizards in past weeks it was understandable that Hughes was a bit cautious. Without all-star forward Antawn Jamison, the Wizards will need all of their remaining parts healthy to get through the final 20 games of the season. And if the Wizards come close the rest of the season to resembling the team that beat the Hawks, they should be able to secure their first playoff berth in eight years.

"We're going to sprint now," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "It's the final kick to the finish line. We've got to keep our concentration up."

The Wizards (35-27) shot a season-high 59.7 percent (43 of 72), scored a season high in points and recorded their most lopsided win of the season. Point guard Gilbert Arenas led six Wizards in double figures with 29 points and added six steals as the Wizards won consecutive games for the first time in a month. They also claimed the third-best record in the Eastern Conference with the win (they were tied with Cleveland for third before the Cavaliers lost to Milwaukee).

Using an impressive 24-2 fourth-quarter run -- capped by Hughes's two-handed slam -- the Wizards put away the Hawks, owners of the worst record in the NBA at 11-53. Arenas hit three three-pointers during the run, including back-to-back jumpers from long distance that gave the Wizards a 99-78 lead with about seven minutes remaining.

"At one point, you could see they were frustrated, so we just kept attacking," Arenas said. "We tried to just keep going, keep going, waiting for their young boys to give in."

With the Hawks not starting a player taller than 6 feet 9, the Wizards pounded the ball inside to forwards Etan Thomas, Jared Jeffries and Kwame Brown, and center Brendan Haywood, who combined to score 51 points on 20-of-27 shooting. Thomas had 15 points, Jeffries had 14 and Brown 13.

"We're bigger than they were inside," Brown said. "It does something for our confidence, even though it's the Atlanta Hawks. For us to come out and knock the wind out of them, it says something about our team."

Reserve point guard Steve Blake matched his season high with 17 points for the Wizards, who were playing their second game this season without Jamison, their third-leading scorer and leading rebounder, who will miss at least the next game against Milwaukee with right knee tendinitis. Jeffries wore one of Jamison's armbands, which read "A4J," on his right knee, while Jamison watched the game from the bench in a navy suit.

"We never had a loss of confidence because of Antawn being out," Jordan said. "Right now, Antawn is out of the equation, outside of being a leader."

The Wizards improved to 14-3 when at least five players score in double figures. The last time the Wizards accomplished that feat was Jan. 26 against Philadelphia -- 20 games ago.

The Wizards have won two of their past 10 games on the road, and they will play seven of their next eight games away from MCI Center, including Friday's game at Milwaukee.

Guard Tony Delk scored 16 points to lead the Hawks, who have lost 19 of their past 21 games. Hawks Coach Mike Woodson received his first ejection of the season in the fourth quarter when forward Al Harrington fouled out. Harrington had just eight points but he hit a jumper that brought his team within 84-78 with 10 minutes 34 seconds left in the game.

The Wizards outscored the Hawks 42-20 in the final period, shooting an improbable 82 percent (14 of 17) and connecting on 4 of 4 three-pointers.

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