Playing in front of a national television audience for the first time since Michael Jordan departed, the Washington Wizards were out to show the rest of the country what people in the District have begun to realize for some time -- that these aren't the same old Wizards.
The Wizards served notice with a 107-96 win against the surprising Seattle SuperSonics last night, a win that was punctuated when guard Larry Hughes drove around Sonics point guard Luke Ridnour and dunked over Sonics reserve forward Danny Fortson with 1 minute 40 seconds left, a move that sent the 16,230 at MCI Center to their feet with applause.
Gilbert Arenas scores 27 points to lead a balanced scoring attack that results in a 107-96 victory over Seattle.
(Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)
_____From The Post_____
Gilbert Arenas leads the Wizards to a 107-96 victory over Seattle.
Mike Wise: This Wizards team is gaining star power.
"It builds a little buzz around the basketball world that we are not a fluke," point guard Gilbert Arenas said. Coach Eddie Jordan said he noticed a difference in his team with them playing on TNT.
"It's the first time that our guys who didn't play, they wore their suits instead of jeans and T-shirts. That was a good thing," Jordan said. The players "came in after the game and said, 'Yes, and it was on TNT.' So, it meant something."
The Wizards (18-13) have won three in a row and have their best record after 31 games in 20 years. They beat a team with a winning record for the first time since they defeated the Lakers in Los Angeles on Dec. 17. "It was definitely a big win for us," center Brendan Haywood said after scoring 12 points. "I think a lot of people were starting to doubt if we could beat good teams. We wanted to go out and prove that we can play with anybody."
It was by no means easy, as the Wizards watched a 19-point first-half lead get whittled down to six in the fourth quarter when Sonics guard Ray Allen hit a driving layup over Arenas with 5:54 remaining. But they refused to fold as they did last week against the defending champion Detroit Pistons, when they blew a 19-point lead and lost on a last-second jumper. "The script was almost written again, but we had a determination and a killer instinct," Jordan said.
On his 23rd birthday, Arenas led six Wizards in double digits with 27 points. The Wizards improved to 9-3 this season when five or more players score in double figures. "That can become the identity of this team," said Jamison, who had 19 points and nine rebounds. "The big three [Jamison, Arenas and Hughes] has been getting a lot of attention and we need Jarvis Hayes to come in and be big for us. We need Brendan to get points in the paint and we also need Jared" Jeffries.
Jeffries had 11 points; the Wizards are 7-0 this season when he scores 10 or more points. "That's the key," Jeffries said with a laugh. "Now give me the ball. Now, I'm playing."
Forward Kwame Brown, back after missing the past four games with a strained tendon in his right ankle, was inserted with 8:35 left to counter the bruising Fortson, who "was controlling the paint, laying some wood on our guys," Jordan said. Brown was booed upon entering but the fans quickly changed their tune when he forced a turnover, slapping the ball off Fortson.
After Allen's layup, Brown helped break the game open when he freed up Arenas with a wicked pick, which sent Ridnour crumbling to the floor. "That's what a big guy is supposed to do," Brown said. "I wasn't trying to hurt anybody. I was just setting a good, solid screen."
Arenas used the opening to dart toward the lane, where he was fouled as he hit a difficult layup. Arenas completed the three-point play with a free throw. Jamison followed with a three-pointer from the right corner to give the Wizards a 94-82 lead with 4:25 left. When Brown left the court with about one minute later, he was cheered.
The Sonics (23-8) possess the third-best record in the NBA and were on the last leg of a five-game tour of the Eastern Conference's Southeast Division. They won the first three games of the road trip -- defeating the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Bobcats and snapping the Miami Heat's 14-game win streak -- before losing in Orlando Wednesday night. "I like to thank the schedule for keeping them on the road for seven days," Jordan said.