By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 11, 2006
His work done for the night, Gilbert Arenas strode off the floor and traded a high-five with Washington Coach Eddie Jordan, raised his hands to the sellout crowd of 20,173 at MCI Center and was greeted by happy teammates as he took a seat on the Wizards' bench. The fans reacted with a standing ovation, which was appropriate on a day Arenas learned he had been named to the Eastern Conference all-star squad -- yet there was a sense this applause was about more than just Arenas.
As Arenas continues to gain respect around the league for his sensational play, the Wizards are starting to show signs that they plan on being taken seriously during the second half of the season.
A 101-89 win over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers was the fourth in a row for Washington (25-23) and showed that the Wizards are more than Arenas, who scored a game-high 32 points with 10 assists and 8 rebounds in 47 minutes.
Forward Antawn Jamison, scored 28 points, 11 of them in the fourth quarter, including a three-pointer that gave the Wizards an 86-80 lead seven minutes remaining.
Swingman Caron Butler was excellent on both ends of the floor, taking his turns defending James while chipping in with 18 points and 10 rebounds. And center Brendan Haywood played one his best games of the season, scoring 14 points with 10 rebounds while frustrating Cleveland center Zydrunas Illgauskas to the point that Illgauskas was ejected after drawing his second technical foul in the fourth quarter.
James, who scored 37 points in Cleveland's 114-99 win over the Wizards in Cleveland on Nov. 15 and finished with a team-high 18 points with 9 assists and 8 rebounds, but made just 6 of 23 shots and was held scoreless for the game's final 11 minutes. As James struggled late, missing all four of his fourth-quarter attempts, the Wizards grew stronger.
"Everyone knows what is expected of them," Butler said. "Right now, we have guys doing their job, playing well with one another and that's why we're winning games."
The final five minutes featured several plays that will wind up on the hustle board Jordan has installed in the Wizards' locker room. Arenas took a hard foul from Drew Gooden and wound on his back, but got right back up and made his two free throws.
After a Cleveland miss, Butler dove to the floor to beat two Cavaliers to a loose ball. And then Michael Ruffin screened two Cavs -- first James, then Gooden -- freeing up Arenas to make a three-pointer that put the Wizards up by 11 with just over three minutes left.
Haywood, who helped the Wizards to a 10-3 third-quarter run by scoring on consecutive possessions, helped turn the game with his defense and poise in the fourth. Haywood and Illgauskas were assessed technical fouls after mixing it up under the basket during a scramble for a rebound with 9 minutes 4 seconds remaining and the Wizards ahead by five. Moments later, Illgauskas posted Haywood up and went into an offensive move. As he did, Haywood drew contact and fell to the floor.
Referee Mark Ayotte called Illgauskas for the offensive foul and Illgauskas exploded in rage, charging after Ayotte so furiously that teammate Anderson Varejao stepped in to restrain him. Illgauskas was given his second technical and ejected. Illgauskas finished with 14 points but managed only one in the critical fourth quarter.
"Brendan really took the challenge," Jordan said. "We said going in that tonight we would have to bring a physical approach, especially in the post. We did a little bit different thing in shoot-around this morning. We did some live post defense which is unheard of but we said: 'This is what we need to have tonight.' And Brendan really took the challenge."
The four straight wins match a season high for the Wizards, who have also won six straight at MCI Center. Washington's five-game homestand, the longest of the season, will conclude tomorrow afternoon against the Philadelphia 76ers.