Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan isn't one for bold public proclamations, but he declared that his team's five-game losing streak was over about an hour before tip-off against the Milwaukee Bucks. "It's a new day," Jordan said, speaking with the confidence of someone who knew exactly what was in store for his team.
But how could he have expected this? Forward Antawn Jamison -- who has been hampered by right knee tendinitis -- diving across the scorers' table for a loose ball and looking spry as he scored a team-high 32 points? Much-maligned forward Kwame Brown eliciting cheers at MCI Center while connecting on his first five shots en route to a season-high 17 points? And point guard Gilbert Arenas reluctant to shoot for more than three quarters?
Antawn Jamison lifts a shot over the Bucks' Desmond Mason for two of his team-high 32 points. Five Wizards scored in double figures.
(John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
Any Wizards' win or Nets' loss will clinch a playoff spot for the Wizards.
With five games left in the regular season, the Wizards are two games behind the Bulls in the Eastern Conference race for home court advantage.
However it happened, the Wizards will take it, as they put a halt to their longest losing skid of the season with a 119-112 victory and finally handed Jordan career win No. 100. After the game, Wizards owner Abe Pollin brought down a banner to celebrate with Jordan, who hugged his mother, Marguerite, and wife, Charrisse, as he walked toward the locker room. Asked what the monumental win meant, Jordan said: "That my wife and my mother came on the court at the end of the game. I usually kick them off. That's what it means. I want to achieve a whole lot more than 100 wins."
The Wizards (42-35) also secured the franchise's first winning season since 1998 and they can clinch a playoff berth with either their next win or a New Jersey Nets' loss. They are also just two games behind the fourth-place Chicago Bulls, whom they will face in a nationally televised game tomorrow. "I want that four spot," Jamison said. "I love it. I love to be in this position to be chasing somebody. Even though we haven't played the way we would like, of late, this is still a fun race to be a part of. I don't want that sixth spot. Six is not in my vocabulary."
The Wizards matched their season-high with 29 assists as five players scored in double figures, including Larry Hughes (23 points), Etan Thomas (17 points) and Juan Dixon (12 points). Arenas failed to score in double figures for the first time since Jan. 17 -- a span of 41 games -- and finished with eight points and a season-high 13 assists.
When the Wizards lost 99-90 in Milwaukee on March 18, Arenas took a career-high 35 shots and blamed himself for the defeat. But, a game after scoring a career-high 44 points, Arenas went scoreless in the first half and had more assists (six) than shot attempts (two). His passive approach on the offensive end appeared to baffle his teammates, but they didn't complain. "He's talented enough to be a team leader in other ways other than shooting and scoring the ball," said Hughes, who appeared to ask Arenas to shoot in the third quarter. "You don't need to tell Gil to shoot."
Arenas didn't score until he connected on a three-point play with 10 minutes 47 seconds left -- in the fourth quarter. He then hit a three-pointer to give the Wizards a 90-80 lead 30 seconds later. "That's Gilbertology, as we call it," Jordan said. "It's not ideology or anything. It's his way of doing things."
Arenas pulled a similar stunt last season during a 76-74 win in Toronto, when -- one game after Brown said the Wizards needed to share the ball -- Arenas scored all seven of his points in the final 5:30. Arenas didn't hang around to explain himself after last night's game.
Hughes finished with eight rebounds and seven assists, and provided the highlight of the game when he had Brown trailing on a two-on-one break in the first quarter. Hughes faked a behind-the-back pass to Brown, then turned to sink a layup.
But Hughes would later share with Brown, assisting the 7-footer on three buckets in the first half, including an alley-oop lob pass that ended with an emphatic one-handed dunk. Brown had been booed in his past two games, but he didn't give the home crowd any reason to show their disapproval. "He was letting it flow," Hughes said of Brown.
The fourth quarter remained the Wizards' quarter of discontent in the month of April, as the Bucks (29-48) scored 39 points in the final period. The Bucks hit seven of their first 10 shots in the quarter and trailed just 110-106 with less than two minutes remaining when guard Michael Redd (game-high 35 points) launched a three-pointer that swished through the net as Jordan pounded the scorers' table in anger. But the Wizards were able to withstand the run and Arenas sealed the win -- not with a shot, but when he found Jamison streaking down the court for a layup with 1:03 left.
"It just shows you how much he matured. He came into the locker room after the game like he scored 43 again," Jamison said. "He didn't get it going offensively, but he shared the ball. Thirteen assists ain't bad."