The Washington Wizards love to talk about how no deficit intimidates them, and with the highest-scoring trio of teammates in the league, they have reason to be confident. Point guard Gilbert Arenas, guard Larry Hughes and forward Antawn Jamison each are capable of carrying the team on a run by himself.
But a little bit a doubt had to creep in last night, when the Wizards trailed by six with 1 minute 44 seconds left against the Minnesota Timberwolves. "Normally against a team that went to the Western Conference finals, and they're up six with a minute and a half to go, most teams don't think they have a chance," Jamison said. "Not us."
Gilbert Arenas shows off his shooting form as he scores a season-high 40 points in a win over the Timberwolves.
(Toni L. Sandys - The Washington Post)
With Arenas, Hughes and Jamison accounting for 91 points, the Wizards pulled out one of their most improbable wins, scoring the final nine points to defeat the Timberwolves, 117-114, before a sellout crowd at MCI Center.
The Wizards (19-13) have won four in a row and snapped a seven-game losing streak against the Timberwolves. They also got some payback for a 35-point drubbing in Minnesota on Dec. 26. "We wanted to get one against those guys," Hughes said. "After what they did to us, we had to show them that we weren't going down like that. Respect is big in this league, and people need to know we're coming to fight every night."
Arenas scored a season-high 40 points and played 45 minutes; Hughes (28 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists) and Jamison (23 points, 10 rebounds) both played 43. All three players were on the floor the entire second half. "Coach had to stick with them. He had to," reserve forward Jarvis Hayes said, shrugging his shoulders. "They had it rolling."
It was the first time Arenas, Hughes and Jamison each scored at least 20 points in a game since Dec. 17 in Los Angeles, when they combined to score 92 in a 120-116 overtime win against the Lakers. The trio scored 28 consecutive points for the Wizards in the fourth quarter until Hayes sank two free throws with three seconds remaining. Hayes provided all the scoring from the Wizards' bench, which was outscored 56-7 by the Timberwolves' reserves.
After Timberwolves forward Latrell Sprewell (19 points) hit two free throws to give his team a 114-108 lead, Arenas got the Wizards started on the comeback when he sank a three-pointer. Then, after swarming Timberwolves forward Wally Szczerbiak and forcing him into a turnover, Jamison hit two free throws to bring the Wizards within one.
The Timberwolves tried to counter by going inside to forward Kevin Garnett, but he missed a turnaround jumper with Jared Jeffries all over him. Arenas was fouled on a jumper on the other end and sank both free throws to give the Wizards a 115-114 lead with 27 seconds remaining. The game almost slipped away, however, when Jamison missed two free throws after Szczerbiak missed a contested layup. The Timberwolves then went to Garnett, who missed a seven-foot fadeaway. Hayes grabbed the rebound and got fouled with three seconds left and the crowd erupted. "We made tough shots, big shots, and that's nothing new to this team," Jamison said. "This team is going to play until that clock reads triple zeros."
Garnett had 25 points, 19 rebounds and 8 assists. He scored 12 points in the fourth -- but with Jeffries playing solid defense, Garnett didn't score in the final two minutes, missing three shots in the final minute, including a desperation three-pointer as the horn sounded. "You need that," Hughes said. "If [Jeffries] doesn't play good defense, it doesn't matter what we do on offense."
Jeffries trained with Garnett last summer in Los Angeles, where he learned the habits of the league's reigning most valuable player. "On the left side, he's real comfortable, going back to that baseline turnaround, that's like his patented shot. He's such a talented player, and I needed to get a hand on him," Jeffries said. Jeffries added 13 points; the Wizards are 8-0 this season when Jeffries scores in double figures.
The Timberwolves (17-15) lost their seventh consecutive road game -- including a humiliating 102-84 loss against the expansion Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday -- and they haven't won away from home since Dec. 8 at Philadelphia. They have lost eight of their past 11 overall and struggled to defeat the Allen Iverson-less Philadelphia 76ers at home Friday night.
After beating the Seattle SuperSonics on national television on Thursday, and Minnesota, the Wizards have gained confidence after defeating two quality Western Conference teams in a row. "They all have a drive, will, determination and a winning attitude. They are showing every night that this is no fluke," Washington Coach Eddie Jordan said.