Wizards Don't Feel Heat Against Hornets

Gilbert Arenas
Gilbert Arenas plays keep away with Hornets guard Chris Paul. In addition to his 30 points, the Wizards' guard dished out 11 assists. (Toni L. Sandys - The Washington Post)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 18, 2007

With the Miami Heat stalking them in the standings and all-star forward Caron Butler out for at least six games with a left knee injury, the Washington Wizards understood they could not afford anything less than a complete effort last night against the struggling New Orleans Hornets.

In earning a comfortable 125-103 win over the Hornets in front of a sellout crowd at Verizon Center, the Wizards didn't look like a team that was preoccupied with the surging Heat, which has won nine straight games and trails the Wizards by a half-game in the Southeast Division, and they didn't resemble a squad that was panicking over the loss of Butler either.

While Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and DeShawn Stevenson did the heavy lifting by totaling 69 points, second-year forward Andray Blatche started in Butler's place and contributed 10 points and seven rebounds in 30 high-energy minutes.

All 12 players scored, and when the Hornets drew within 10 points at the end of the third quarter, the Wizards asserted themselves by opening the fourth with scores on four consecutive possessions.

Arenas, who caught a flight from Oakland, Calif., late Friday night after witnessing the birth of his son, continued his hot shooting of late by going 10 of 18 from the field and 4 of 8 from three-point range.

He finished with 30 points and 11 assists and essentially put away the game by making a three-pointer while drawing a foul on Bobby Jackson with 9 minutes 21 seconds remaining. The four-point play -- one of two registered by Arenas -- gave the Wizards an 18-point lead.

The Wizards shot a season-best 58.4 percent and improved to 14-0 when shooting better than 50 percent. It was easily the team's best all-around outing since a 129-109 win over Toronto on March 6.

"We had 12 players play the right way, play very well for the full 48 minutes," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "We shared the ball and our bench did a great job."

That bench has received a boost from forward Darius Songaila, who made all six of his shots and finished with 12 points, 6 rebounds and 2 steals in just more than 19 minutes.

Songaila made all five of his shots and scored 12 points in Wednesday's win at Indiana and he appears to be establishing himself after missing the first 45 games with a herniated disk in his lower back.

"I feel a lot more comfortable and that comes with time and playing with the guys," Songaila said. "And a lot of that has to do with other guys on the team, finding me for open shots. You've got a guy like A.D. [Antonio Daniels] doing a great job of reading the court. We communicate pretty well."

When Songaila drove to his left and made a pretty reverse layup in traffic, pushing the lead to 22 points, Butler bounced out of his seat and enthusiastically waved a towel over his head.

Winning with ease while Butler watched from the bench was a good sign for a team that is facing a five-game road trip that begins at Portland on Tuesday night. The Wizards once led the Heat by 5 1/2 games but Miami drew into a virtual tie with the Wizards with a win over Sacramento on Friday night.

The Heat has gone 10-2 since Dwyane Wade went down with a shoulder injury against the Houston Rockets on Feb. 21. Miami will host the Orlando Magic tonight and has winnable games coming up at Atlanta, at Indiana and at home against Philadelphia and Atlanta.

Still, the Wizards insist that they won't be distracted by Miami's progress or by Butler's injury.

"We do not think about that so much," Jordan said. "We have always said, we have enough. When guys are hurt our objective is to get guys some minutes and I think we feel comfortable out there."

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