The fourth quarter of last night's game against the Seattle SuperSonics at MCI Center was getting under way, and Washington Wizards all-stars Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison were parked on the home bench, wearing warmup tops and huge smiles.
Arenas and Jamison were able to sit back and relax because the Wizards had already bounced back from Wednesday's home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers by laying a whipping on the SuperSonics with their most complete performance of the young season in front of a sellout crowd of 20,173 at MCI Center.
The 137-96 victory improved Washington's record to 4-1 and set up an intriguing matchup tonight against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs (5-1).
After four close games to open the season, just about everything went the Wizards' way against a Seattle team that appears to be lottery-bound. The 137 points were the most scored by the Wizards since 1994. The Wizards shot 58.5 percent and outrebounded an opponent for the first time this season.
The Wizards even excelled in their shakiest statistical category: free throw shooting. After hitting only 67.6 percent in the first four games, Washington hit 33 of 41 last night (80 percent).
"After the close games we've been playing it was good to just come out, put it all together and put one away," said Arenas, who squeezed in some extra rest for tonight's matchup with San Antonio point guard Tony Parker after scoring a season-high 32 points on 11-of-16 shooting with seven assists. "I was happy that we didn't let up when we got the lead. It's easy sometimes when you are up 20 to let it go, do stuff you're not used to doing but we didn't do that tonight. We took good shots, moved the ball well and good things happened for us."
After blowing open a close game with a 42-point second quarter, the Wizards never led by fewer than 20. The 71 first-half points were one shy of the most scored by the Wizards in a half at MCI Center and the most in a half overall since they scored 80 in the second half at Dallas last Jan. 18.
The Wizards, who averaged 100.8 points per game last season, broke 100 for the first time this season and had no problems getting any shot they wanted against a porous and often indifferent Seattle defense.
Jordan rested his starters in the fourth quarter and even played rookie forward Andray Blatche, who missed training camp and the preseason with injuries he suffered during a Sept. 25 shooting. He finished with five points and two assists in seven minutes.
Seattle, meanwhile, was on the receiving end of a beating for the third straight game. The SuperSonics looked nothing like the squad that won 52 games and advanced to the Western Conference semifinals last season.
Arenas bounced back from a rough shooting night (5 of 21) in Wednesday's loss to the Clippers. Arenas was aggressive from the start, dominating Luke Ridnour and exploding through, or around, any Sonics who tried to help.
Arenas scored 11 points -- five of them on free throws -- as the Wizards took control in the second quarter. Seattle also had no answers for Washington forward Caron Butler, who came off the bench to score nine of his season-high 24 points in the first half.
So far, the trade that brought Butler and Chucky Atkins to Washington in exchange for Kwame Brown is looking like a steal for the Wizards. While Brown has struggled with the Lakers, Butler is providing the kind of scoring and playmaking the Wizards needed to replace when Larry Hughes signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers over the summer.
During one stretch of the second quarter, Butler completed a fast break by rolling through some contact from the 6-foot-10, 285-pound Vitaly Potapenko before tossing in a deft one-handed runner off glass. He then finished another break by flipping a pass to a streaking Jamison, who threw down a slam dunk to give the Wizards a 53-33 lead.
Seattle gave the Wizards some problems early, particularly by going to forward Rashard Lewis, who scored nine of his 17 points in the first quarter but never could get rolling.
All-star guard Ray Allen was held in check by former SuperSonic Antonio Daniels and made only 1-of-9 three point attempts; Seattle shot just 39.7 percent from the floor.
Four of Washington's five opponents have shot less than 40 percent. It will take a similar defensive effort by the Wizards tonight to beat a San Antonio team that is expected to cruise through the Western Conference this season.
"Everyone wants to play against the world champs and see where they stand as a team," Arenas said. "We get a glimpse of them early to see where we stand as a basketball club. We're not at that level yet but we're trying to get there."