Arenas, Wizards roll over Raptors, 84-70

Guard scores 27 points, carries Washington to fourth win in past 5 games

Pro Basketball

March 04, 2004|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Many things have to happen, most of them improbable, for the Washington Wizards to make the playoffs, but it might actually be possible to use that word and the team's name in the same sentence without laughing.

On the strength of another brilliant performance from point guard Gilbert Arenas and whopping advantages in free throws and rebounding, the Wizards beat the Toronto Raptors, 84-70, last night at MCI Center.

The Wizards (20-39) are only 4 1/2 games out of the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. They trail the Boston Celtics, whom they play tomorrow night, by three games in the loss column with 23 games left. The Wizards then face the New York Knicks, who are in sixth in the East, on Sunday.

"Hopefully, we can look ahead and have some small short-term goals," Washington coach Eddie Jordan said. "We see Boston and New York in eighth and sixth place in the playoff standings. We want to move up, and that's who we have to go through. It's a two-game weekend, and hopefully we can sweep the weekend."

Such talk might have sounded ridiculous a week ago, when Arenas, who had 27 points last night, and forward Kwame Brown were trading barbs about the offense.

But in winning four of their past five games, the Wizards have put together their best spurt of the season, combining timely shooting and good defense, with effort coming from all corners.

"That's fun," said Arenas, a strong candidate for Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors, following up on consecutive 35-point performances.

"Right now, you can't judge us on our record. You've got to judge us on how we're playing lately. We're on a roll, so we're going to stay with it and just keep fighting."

The Wizards, who don't often have a frontcourt advantage, used the one they had last night over Toronto's slender front line of rookie center Chris Bosh and forward Donyell Marshall, to the tune of a 61-38 rebounding edge. Five Washington players had at least eight rebounds.

"One of the things we tried to do was have a defensive presence because their big men can really pull us out," said Washington forward Etan Thomas. "Donyell Marshall is great at hitting threes, and Chris Bosh is really like a small forward. We had to bring up the pressure. That's what we tried to do, really be aware of all they could do."

Washington also enjoyed a big advantage at the free-throw line, going 25-for-32. Toronto was just 7-for-11.

In the key moment of the game, Jordan subbed out Brown, center Brendan Haywood and guard Juan Dixon early in the third quarter, after the Raptors (26-35) scored five quick points to take a three-point lead.

Instead, with Thomas, Jared Jeffries and the rarely used Christian Laettner on the floor, Washington went on a 13-0 run and was rarely challenged the rest of the way.

"At halftime, we talked about how there was a lack of intensity, a lack of purpose, a lack of focus from a group of guys," Jordan said. "I said we can't have that at the beginning of the quarter. We had just so much time to see if we can bring it to the table and we didn't see it, so we brought the three big guys in and they brought it for us."

Thomas had 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Jarvis Hayes scored 15.

NOTE: The Wizards have signed another former Maryland player, forward Lonny Baxter. Baxter, who teamed with Dixon and Steve Blake to lead the Terps to the 2002 NCAA championship, had been waived Sunday by the Raptors and was added to the Washington roster yesterday when he cleared waivers.

Baxter, a Takoma Park native, was dealt to Toronto by the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 1. Baxter, who averaged 4.2 points and 3.1 rebounds for the Bulls and Raptors, played two minutes last night.

Next for Wizards

Opponent: Boston Celtics

Site: FleetCenter, Boston

When: Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: CN8/WTNT (570 AM)

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