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Wizards Beat Blazers, Finish On a High Note

Wizards 114, Trail Blazers 106

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 29, 2005; Page D01

PORTLAND, Ore., March 28 -- It ended so much better than it began. After the Washington Wizards were blown out of Denver to start this Western Conference trip, the team's confidence was rattled and players began to grumble for the first time this season. That grumbling turned into bickering two games later, when center Brendan Haywood and Kwame Brown engaged in a very public dispute.

But the Wizards were feeling quite good about themselves after they defeated the Portland Trail Blazers, 114-106, Monday night at Rose Garden. They came away winning their last two games, against Seattle and Portland, and finished 3-2 on the trip, giving them their first winning road trip against Western Conference teams since March 2000. "I'm proud of my team," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "We took care of business on this road trip. We've come through with flying colors."

Forward Jared Jeffries, right, drives past Portland's Darius Miles as the Wizards win in Portland, 114-106. (Rick Bowmer - AP)

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PORTLAND, Ore., March 28 -- Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said that second-year forward Jarvis Hayes probably won't return in the regular season. Hayes, the team's fourth-leading scorer at 10.2 points per game, has been on the injured list since March 5 with a fractured right patella and hasn't played in more than four weeks. Hayes was expected to miss four to six weeks but he has only recently begun rehabilitating the knee.

"Jarvis probably won't come back 100 percent healthy," Jordan said. "It's not a focus point for us. He's hurt. We look at his healing process down the line. What does that mean? The last week of the season? Sometime in the playoffs? I don't know. It won't be anytime soon." . . .

Jordan said that the team will sign forward Damone Brown to another 10-day contract on Tuesday. In his first five games with the Wizards, Brown averaged five points, two rebounds and two assists in 15.2 minutes. "Everything is going pretty good," said Brown, who started the season with the NBDL's Huntsville Flight. "Coach said everybody has got to step up, so when you're called on, you got to make plays. I'm having a chance to play and contribute, that's always exciting."

Since going scoreless in three minutes during his debut with the Wizards against Utah on March 19, Brown has made the most of his time. Brown had six points and a team-high six assists against Denver and scored a season-high 11 points against the Los Angeles Clippers. He spent time learning the Princeton-style offense last season and in training camp with the New Jersey Nets and Jordan said he hasn't had any problem using Brown as one of the first players off the bench. "He's one of those small forward skills," Jordan said. "He's been important for us." . . .

Gilbert Arenas's 18-point performance against Seattle ended a string of 15 games in which he scored 20 or more points. . . . With center Brendan Haywood out for possibly the rest of the regular season, Etan Thomas will get considerably more playing time. He played 28 minutes against Seattle -- two fewer than his season high.

-- Michael Lee

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The Wizards reached triple digits and had six players score in double figures for the first time in six games. They improved to 7-0 when six players score at least 10 points. Point guard Gilbert Arenas led the Wizards (39-30) with 28 points and backcourt mate Larry Hughes had 25. "We got back to the way we were playing tonight," Hughes said. "It was a good basketball game."

Although pleased with the results, the Wizards weren't ready to celebrate. Jordan is still cautious when speaking of the playoffs, calling it "a trap for a young team" that has never gone that far. And, with 13 games remaining, the Eastern Conference playoff race has tightened after the Chicago Bulls won their sixth game in a row to remain within one game of the fourth seed. Cleveland and Indiana were also victorious and the Wizards are just 3 1/2 games from the seventh seed. "Teams are . . . breathing down our necks," Arenas said, "but we're not worried about them right now. We've been holding this position down the whole season, why give it up now? We've got to hold on to the four spot."

The Wizards finished 17-13 against Western Conference teams and they swept five teams in Portland, Seattle, Utah, Memphis and the Los Angeles Lakers.

For the first time in a while, the Wizards actually welcomed back a player instead of saying farewell to someone for an extended amount of time. Guard Juan Dixon returned after missing eight of the past nine games with a sprained right ankle and provided the burst of energy off the bench that has been missing for some time. Dixon scored 13 points, ending a string of three consecutive scoreless outings.

Etan Thomas, starting his second game for Haywood, had his second double-double with 10 points and a season-high 14 rebounds. Kwame Brown sprained his ankle during the Wizards' win against Seattle the night before, but he played 25 minutes and scored 12 points with eight rebounds. Guard Laron Profit matched his season high with 11 points.

After a day off, the Wizards will face the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday and they may have forward Antawn Jamison return within the week.

The Wizards started this trip with a 29-point loss in Denver, and Hughes expressing his frustration with the team's offense. They also had a disappointing performance in Los Angeles, losing, 98-94, to the Clippers, losing Haywood with a broken left thumb and losing their cool with Haywood and Brown. Their first two victories on this trip were by a combined two points, with Hughes knocking down the game-winning jumper in Utah and making a clutch defensive stop against Ray Allen in the win against Seattle.

"It was a great way to end this little West Coast swing. Of course, we could've played a little better, but we'll take it," Thomas said.

The Wizards pulled ahead against Portland in the second quarter, when they outscored the Trail Blazers, 27-16. They trailed, 37-35, when Trail Blazers forward Darius Miles had a driving finger roll with 5 minutes 16 seconds left in the second quarter, but Arenas had back-to-back layups to start a 10-0 run. Hughes gave the Wizards a 10-point lead when he knocked down a long jumper with three seconds left in the half, but they led just 51-44 at halftime when Miles raced down the court to hit a three-pointer as the horn sounded.

The Wizards pushed the lead to 70-55 with 5:11 left in the third quarter when Hughes converted a three-point play. The Blazers made small pushes afterward but the game was never in any serious danger.

The Blazers looked nothing like the team the Wizards faced last season, let alone two months ago at MCI Center. Shorthanded without starters Zach Randolph and Derek Anderson and backup guard Nick Van Exel, the Blazers had a new look, a new coach and no luck.

The Blazers have gone just 2-12 since Kevin Pritchard replaced Maurice Cheeks on March 2. Pritchard has begun the youth movement in Portland, starting rookie point guard Sebastian Telfair and Miles, which has led to minimal results, but the Blazers ended a seven-game losing streak with a win over New York on Saturday.

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