With Arenas seemingly benefitting from a new backcourt partner and Caron Butler enjoying his new role as a starter, the Wizards go for a season-high fourth straight win as they try to beat the Suns for the second time in six days.
Washington’s three-game win streak coincides with Jordan’s decision to move Butler into the starting lineup at small forward and shift 6-foot-11 forward Jared Jeffries to shooting guard alongside Arenas.
Fourth in the NBA with 29.0 points per game, Arenas has been dominant offensively since the change, averaging 37 points and shooting 54 percent from the field.
Jeffries has 10 assists over the last three games, just four fewer than he had in the first nine games of the month combined.
“I’m very excited about the lineup,” Jordan said. “We’ve been trying to get the right guy next to Gilbert all year.”
Arenas scored 41 points and hit the game-winning free throw with 44 seconds to play in last Friday’s 112-111 victory in Phoenix. Butler scored 26 points, and Jeffries had 12 rebounds and nine points.
That game ended a five-game western road swing for the Wizards, who returned home on Monday and rallied from 16 points down to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 94-91.
“It’s hard to get that home rhythm that you’re used to. It kicked in in the second half,” said Arenas, who scored 10 of his 34 points during a game-changing 21-3 run to end the third quarter.
Butler added 16 points and Jeffries scored eight to go with seven rebounds in 22 minutes.
Phoenix bounced back from the loss to Washington by opening a five-game road trip with a 103-89 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night.
Suns forward Boris Diaw, averaging 11.4 points this season, had a career-high 31 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. He shot 11-for-16 from the field and hit all nine of his free throws.
“When it’s like that, you just keep going until you miss,” said Diaw, whose previous season high was 17 points.
Marion noted that with Amare Stoudemire still sidelined, the Suns need players like Diaw to step up from time to time.
“That’s the system we have,” Marion said. “We’ve got equal opportunity out here. It’s just a matter of who gets it going.”
STANDINGS (through Dec. 27): Suns - 1st place, Pacific Division. Wizards - 2nd place, 3 1/2 GB, Southeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Suns - Marion, 19.5 ppg and 11.8 rpg; Nash, 10.3 apg. Wizards - Arenas, 29 ppg and 6.1 apg; Jamison, 10.9 rpg.
SEASON SERIES: Wizards, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Friday; Wizards, 112-111. At Phoenix, Diaw missed a jump hook in the closing seconds, and Nash’s 20-footer hit both sides of the rim and popped out as time expired.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Suns - 6-4 on the road; Wizards - 7-4 at home.