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Arenas Comes Alive To Help Stop the Jazz

Wizards 96, Jazz 95

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page E01

After the Washington Wizards' 96-95 win against the Utah Jazz last night, reserve point guard Steve Blake raised his right fist in exultation after he forced Utah's Howard Eisley into an air ball, fireworks exploded and Gilbert Arenas took a detour on his way to the locker room.

Arenas marched up an aisle at sold-out MCI Center, high-fiving fans with both hands. Then, he ripped off his jersey, tossed it over his head and ran back down the stairs, slapping five with the same people who were on their feet after Arenas sank two free throws with 2.3 seconds to win the game.

Gilbert Arenas drives on Jazz defender Gordan Giricek. Arenas scores 22 points to lift the Wizards to the win. (Robert A. Reeder - The Washington Post)

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The Wizards signed Damone Brown to a 10-day contract yesterday, filling the roster spot that opened when the team cut Samaki Walker on Friday. Brown, a 6-foot-9, 200-pound forward, averaged 15.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists for the NBDL's Huntsville Flight.

Brown, a second-round pick from Syracuse in 2001, has played in 25 NBA games with Philadelphia, Toronto and New Jersey.

"Me having a taste of [the NBA] the last couple of years and having to go to the NBDL, it's great to come back up here and play," said Brown, who played three seasons with Wizards forward Etan Thomas at Syracuse. "It's a different lifestyle. Here you're traveling first class, down there it's the bus. You're staying in little hotels and stuff, but the competition was good. I think that was the best part, getting a chance to play."

The Wizards needed another wing player with all-star forward Antawn Jamison (knee tendinitis) and Jarvis Hayes (fractured patella) on the injured list. Brown was somewhat familiar with Coach Eddie Jordan's Princeton-style offense, having spent part of last season with the Nets and joining the team in training camp. Jordan watched the rail-thin forward with cornrows and a headband walk toward the court before the game and said: "He looks like [Detroit's] Rip Hamilton. I hope he can play like him."

Brown may be most remembered for his role during arguably the most embarrassing loss of the Michael Jordan era in Washington, when he scored his career-high 13 points as a depleted Toronto Raptors team beat the Wizards, 84-75, at MCI Center on Jan. 14, 2003. On that night, the Raptors had just eight players, and three were signed to 10-day contracts, including Brown, who joined the Raptors the day before after playing for the NBDL's North Charleston Lowgators. . . .

Eddie Jordan said he didn't expect to have guard Juan Dixon (sprained ankle) back for at least a week. Dixon missed his second consecutive game last night. "It could be a week, maybe a little bit longer," Jordan said. "There is still soreness. There is still swelling. He's a tough dude."

-- Michael Lee

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"Gil took the game in his hands and delivered," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "The numbers say we should not have won the game, but you can't measure heart, you can't measure desire and you can't measure guts. That is how we won the game tonight."

Arenas scored all of his 22 points after intermission as the Wizards (36-28) tied the single-season mark for wins at MCI Center (24), which was set in the 1997-98 season and matched in 2002-03. The Wizards have nine home games left to break the record but now they embark on a five-game West Coast trip, which begins Tuesday in Denver. These teams will meet again in Salt Lake City on Thursday and if that game looks anything like this one, the players should come prepared for trouble.

This game featured five technical fouls -- two for Utah, three for Washington -- and Jazz point guard Keith McCloud was ejected with 3 minutes 49 seconds left in the third quarter after he threw an elbow and shoved Wizards forward Jared Jeffries.

Guard Larry Hughes had 21 points and Blake scored 15 points, connecting on 5 of 6 shots from beyond the three-point line, as the Wizards improved to 11-4 at home against Western Conference teams despite going the final 4:43 seconds without a field goal. It was eerily similar to the night before, when the Wizards lost, 99-90, to the Milwaukee Bucks after going the final 4:41 without a field goal. "In Milwaukee, we didn't score and we didn't get stops at the end of the game. We got stops when we needed them" against the Jazz, Hughes said. "I guess that was the difference here."

Barely. The Jazz (20-46), which lost its ninth consecutive game, hit 10 of the first 14 shots in the fourth quarter and led 95-94 when guard Raja Bell came around a screen and buried a 19-foot jumper with 17 seconds left. Arenas then dribbled down the clock for almost 10 seconds before he coerced Bell into his sixth foul that resulted in his decisive free throws.

The Wizards entered the game with just nine healthy players -- including forward Damone Brown, who was signed to a 10-day contract earlier in the day after spending most of the season in the National Basketball Developmental League -- as Antawn Jamison (knee tendinitis), Kwame Brown (flu), Juan Dixon (sprained right ankle) and Anthony Peeler (sore right knee) sat out.

Forward Andre Kirilenko scored 15 of his game-high 28 points in the second quarter and the Jazz led 48-40 at the break. If not for the Wizards' bench, they may have been blown out of their own building in the second quarter. Blake, Michael Ruffin and Etan Thomas (eight points) combined to shoot 6 of 10 and scored 15 points while the Wizards' starters were 0 for 11 for just two points in the period.

Arenas went scoreless in the first half, missing all four of his attempts and failing to make one trip to the foul line. He sat the final 7:06 of the half after picking up his third foul. "Tonight probably wasn't one of those nights to just shoot three or four shots in the first half, but we pulled out the win," Arenas said.

Arenas, however, was more aggressive in the second half, driving into the lane to give the Wizards a 63-61 lead -- their first since early in the second quarter -- and forcing Jazz Coach Sloan to call a timeout. As McLeod walked the ball up the court, Jeffries ran toward him to swipe the ball and McLeod threw an elbow. Jeffries approached McLeod and began exchanging words when McLeod jabbed Jeffries in the chest.

"I tried to smack the ball and he pushed me," said Jeffries, who also received a technical. "I just told him, more or less, that I'm not having it. I don't get mad very often, but he was throwing elbows and talking crazy. Ain't no need for that."

Arenas felt the need to storm into the stands. "It was a close game, they were in it with us, you got to celebrate with them," he said. "Our fans deserve what we're doing right now."


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