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Arenas, Wizards Stand Tall In the End

Guard Seals Win With Basket, Steal: Wizards 104, Trail Blazers 100

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 13, 2005; Page D01

Gilbert Arenas admits that he gambled, but he couldn't pass up the opportunity. He had just given the Washington Wizards a one-point lead against the Portland Trail Blazers, but he knew it wasn't enough. So, when Arenas saw Blazers second-year guard Richie Frahm flinch, he zipped in front of Nick Van Exel to steal the inbounds pass and sprint toward the basket for a two-handed dunk with 20 seconds left as the Wizards won, 104-100, last night at MCI Center.

Arenas and back-court mate Larry Hughes each scored 26 points for the Wizards, who have won five in a row for the first time in three years. The Wizards (20-13) also became the first Washington team to be seven games above .500 since the Bullets were 27-20 on Jan. 30, 1985. "For 19 years, they did everything wrong," Arenas said. "In one year, we're doing everything right."

Larry Hughes and the Wizards hold on for a 104-100 victory over Portland on Wednesday for their fifth consecutive victory. Hughes finishes with 26 points and Gilbert Arenas has 28, including a critical steal in the waning seconds of the win. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)

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Like taking a risk and reaping the reward. Arenas said he could see the fear in the eyes of Frahm. "It would've been stupid if I went past the ball -- that was Nick Van Exel," he said. "He would've had a wide-open shot."

Van Exel was 5 of 10 from beyond the three-point line and scored 19 points for the Blazers, who lost leading scorer Zach Randolph (12 points) in the second quarter with a mild knee sprain. Van Exel knocked down back-to-back three-pointers as the Blazers overcame a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to take a 96-95 lead with 1 minute 4 seconds left.

Hughes answered with a floater over the outstretched arms of Blazers center Theo Ratliff, but Ratliff gave the Blazers a 98-97 lead when he rebounded a miss by Damon Stoudamire (23 points, 11 assists) and dunked with 36 seconds left.

Needing a bucket coming out of a timeout, the Wizards gave the ball to Arenas, who zipped toward the basket and released a high-arching jumper -- that Ratliff barely tipped -- off the backboard and into the hoop as the Wizards took a 99-98 lead with 24 seconds left.

Arenas followed with the steal and dunk, letting out a howl as the 15,836 fans got out of their seats. Arenas was told that the Wizards are giving Coach Eddie Jordan heart failure with the close games. "By now, he should know," Arenas said, jokingly. "He should know it's going to go down the wire. If he has a heart attack, that's his fault."

Jordan lived to see another day. And the Wizards came out ahead as Arenas and Hughes picked up the slack when forward Antawn Jamison had just 11 points on 4-of-17 shooting. Jamison was off in every way. Showing his frustration near the end of the first half, Jamison missed a shot in the lane and tossed his mouthpiece about 20 feet into the seats behind the basket. "I was trying to hit the" basket support, Jamison said. "Good thing I'm not a pitcher, cause that thing went a little too far outside."

Hughes filled the stat sheet with nine assists, five rebounds and six steals. Hughes, who leads the NBA in steals, said he had extra motivation to get steals last night. "I talked to Allen Iverson last night. He said he was going to get it, he was going to catch me. With him, it's always a chance," said Hughes, who played with Iverson in Philadelphia. Iverson is third in the league in steals.

The Wizards made it harder than it perhaps should've been because they shot just 14 of 30 (46.7 percent) from the foul line, missing nine free throws in the fourth quarter. An example of the bizarre night from the foul line: Arenas, an 83-percent foul shooter, was an uncharacteristic 0 for 3, while reserve forward Michael Ruffin was a perfect 2 for 2. "It's a little odd that I'm the one that's hitting all the free throws and everyone else was missing," said Ruffin, a 45-percent foul shooter.

The Wizards also welcomed back reserve forward Etan Thomas, who missed the first 32 games because of an abdominal strain. He entered the game to a standing ovation with 1:19 left in the first quarter and immediately inspired cheers when he grabbed a rebound.

Thomas scored four points with four rebounds in 13 minutes. Although he wasn't completely in sync with his teammates, Thomas was his usual energetic self, contesting shots on defense and quite nimble on one play in the second quarter when he caught a pass from forward Jarvis Hayes, spun into the lane and was fouled as he hit a layup. "It was a great feeling just to be able to get on the court and contribute," Thomas said. "It just got old cheering on the sidelines."

The Wizards beat Atlanta, New Jersey, Seattle, Minnesota and Portland at home, but they have a tough road ahead with an away game against Milwaukee, followed by Phoenix at home and San Antonio and Dallas on the road. "We've got to do the Texas two-step," Jordan said. "We have to be like squirrels. We have to harvest our nuts right now, build up some wins for when things get thin later."

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