Wizards' Gain Not Pain-Free

gilbert arenas - washington wizards
Gilbert Arenas flirts with a triple-double as the Wizards earn a season split (2-2) with the Pistons and remain in first place in the Eastern Conference at 27-17. (John McDonnell - The Post)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Washington Wizards maintained a tenuous hold on first place in the Eastern Conference with a 104-99 win over the second-place Detroit Pistons at Verizon Center last night.

Whether the Wizards remain at the top may be determined by their ability to play without forward Antawn Jamison, who went down six minutes into the game with a sprained left knee after falling awkwardly while attempting a layup on a fast break.

Jamison did not make the flight to Toronto for tonight's game against the Raptors and will undergo an MRI exam tomorrow. Jamison, who had surgery on his right knee following the 2004-05 season, hyperextended the left knee against Boston on Jan. 20 and tweaked it against Phoenix on Jan. 23.

Jamison was coming off consecutive 30-point games and had not missed a game this season, but he has recently been held out of some practices so the knee could rest.

Even without Jamison, the Wizards (27-17) beat the Pistons (25-18) for the second time in five days and evened the season series, 2-2. The victory could be a factor in Washington's favor if tiebreakers are needed to determine seeding for the playoffs.

Gilbert Arenas led the Wizards with 36 points, 11 assists and 7 rebounds and his consecutive three-pointers opened up a 14-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Arenas, who has scored over 30 points in 22 games this season, essentially iced the game when he drove and made a layup while drawing a foul on Tayshaun Prince with 1 minute 44 seconds remaining. His free throw gave the Wizards a 99-89 lead.

DeShawn Stevenson made 7 of 8 shots and scored 15 points for the Wizards, who led by 19 in the first half. Also, Washington held a 29-20 advantage in bench scoring.

"That's our team captain, so he'll definitely be missed, but Antawn is a warrior and he'll be back," said Caron Butler, who finished with 13 points, 5 rebounds and 5 steals. "This is an opportunity for Jarvis Hayes, Andray Blatche, Calvin Booth -- we have so many guys who have been working hard and they'll have a chance to step in. Coach said, 'What's going to happen if something happens to one of the Big Three?' So guys have to take it upon themselves to come in and pick up the slack until he gets back."

The Pistons came into the game averaging an NBA-low 12.2 turnovers, but the Wizards forced 16 and converted them into 12 points. The Pistons shot a solid 52.1 percent but missed some open three-point attempts in the fourth, including one by Prince that would have cut Washington's lead to two points with 15 seconds remaining.

Without Jamison, who is the team's third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, Coach Eddie Jordan's rotation options will be somewhat limited because forwards Darius Songaila (back) and Michael Ruffin (foot) remain out with injuries of their own.

Jordan played Booth at forward for long stretches last night and will also have the option of playing Blatche, a second-year forward who has seen spot duty this season.

Hayes, who started at Milwaukee on Dec. 30 when center Brendan Haywood missed a game with an ankle injury, is the most likely candidate to start in place of Jamison tonight.

Jamison, Arenas and Butler have formed the league's highest-scoring trio since last season and all three players have been durable, but when Butler missed five games with a sprained thumb late last season, the Wizards lost all five.

"We have the personnel to keep the ship afloat," said Hayes, who finished with eight points on 3-of-8 shooting. "It's up to us to maintain this momentum we have going."

The Wizards have won seven of their last eight games and improved to 13-2 against Eastern Conference opponents at Verizon Center, where they are 18-4. They lead the Pistons and Chicago Bulls by 1 1/2 games in the standings and, following tonight's game at Toronto, will play four straight at home.

"We have a little swagger going and everyone is playing well," Stevenson said. "We have a team that believes in each other and as long as we play hard, we will win games."

Wizards Notes: The Wizards shot 58.5 percent in the first half despite missing 8 of 10 three-point attempts. . . . The Pistons were assessed three technical fouls but none was picked up by Rasheed Wallace, who leads the league with 13.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company