By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 6, 2007; E01
The Washington Wizards aren't simply beating quality opponents, they're having all kinds of fun in the process.
In the late stages of last night's 116-105 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, Caron Butler drew an ovation with a smooth behind-the-back dribble that led to a pretty reverse layup off the glass, Gilbert Arenas showed off his arm strength with a perfect length-of-the court pass that Antonio Daniels turned into a layup and Antawn Jamison was greeted by chest bumps and fist pounds when he took a seat with less than three minutes remaining.
It was Washington's 15th win in its last 19 games and moved the Wizards (19-13) six games above the .500 mark for the first time since the 2004-05 season.
Arenas celebrated his 25th birthday a night early by scoring a game-high 35 points to go along with a season-high 12 assists, 7 rebounds and 4 steals. Butler continued to boost his all-star credentials with 27 points on 13-of-18 shooting and Brendan Haywood held his own in his matchup with Chris Kaman by finishing with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
As players quickly dressed and filed out of the Washington locker room in order to get to Arenas's birthday bash at a downtown nightclub, they did so with wide smiles and an extra bounce in their step.
"Early on in the season there was no smiling, no high-fives, it didn't look like we were having much fun," said Butler, who boosted his scoring average to a career-best 20.9 points per game. "But now, guys are kind of vibing off each other and that's what basketball is all about: having fun, loving what you are doing and winning. It's just a real nice vibe right now."
Los Angeles held a 51-36 rebounding advantage and Elton Brand led the Clippers with 29 points and 12 rebounds, but he didn't receive much help as Sam Cassell missed his seventh straight game with a foot injury. The Clippers shot 43.7 percent and their 20 turnovers were converted into 25 Washington points.
The Wizards trailed by 13 in the first quarter but took control with a 37-point second and led by 17 in the third.
After the opening period, the Wizards looked like the quicker, more aggressive team and those strengths -- particularly on defense -- negated the size advantage held by the Clippers' front line of Brand and Kaman.
"The last thing we said before we went out was, they're physical, they're bigger and that's their scheme to attack the paint," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "So we've got to [be] quicker, we've got to be aggressive and we have to get some digs, some steals and denials before they get a rhythm."
It also helped that Arenas got rolling. Arenas established a season high for points in a half with 29 before the break last night. He made 11 of 16 shots and all six of his free throws. He helped the Wizards take a 66-57 advantage into the half by capping a 12-2 run with a fast-break layup while drawing a foul on Shaun Livingston.
Arenas completed the three-point play with a free throw as fans chanted "M-V-P."
The Clippers, winners of four of their previous five games, were sharp early and took a 39-29 lead into the second quarter. The 39 points were the most allowed by the Wizards in an opening quarter and the most scored by the Clippers in any period this season, but Washington dug itself out of the early hole by outscoring the Clippers 37-18 in the second quarter.
Such surges have become staples for a Washington team that is playing some of the best basketball in the NBA lately.
"We have good veterans in the locker room and our core guys understand that we have a good thing going, so let's keep it going," Jordan said. "I don't see us not being humble. I see a confidence and a swagger that you need in the NBA to keep succeeding."
Wizards Notes: Washington has scored at least 100 points in 16 consecutive games and is 13-3 at Verizon Center, the team's best home mark through 16 games since the 1984-85 Bullets also opened 13-3 at home. . . .
The team will fly to Toronto today for tomorrow's 1 p.m. tip-off against the Raptors. It will be the first afternoon game for the Wizards this season. The Wizards will host the Utah Jazz for a rare 1 p.m. game on Jan. 15 in celebration of Martin Luther King Day.