WASHINGTON (AP)—Having shown they can win without several of their key players, the Washington Wizards proved again they can also do it without their coach.
Eddie Jordan left the game in the first quarter with a virus, returned, then left for good in the second quarter to be treated for dehydration. That’s no big deal to a team that has lost 271 man-games due to players’ injuries and illnesses, so the Wizards made do once again with what they had in Wednesday night’s 102-99 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
“Everybody has to take their turn,” said guard Larry Hughes, whose turn consisted of 20 games on the sidelines with a broken thumb earlier this season. “It’s something we have to deal with. We have to go out and win without Coach.”
The Hawks made it interesting before losing their 10th straight and 23rd in 24 games. The game was tied five times in the fourth quarter, but Gilbert Arenas scored nine of his 36 points in the final 3 1/2 minutes, including the go-ahead basket on a driving layup in traffic with 34 seconds to play.
“Everybody wants to play free,” said Arenas, explaining the Wizards’ inability to put the Hawks away. “It’s not the same kind of basketball as when Coach is in. When you’re head coach goes out, you just want to go play. But we found a way at the end to get something going that was working for us.”
Assistant coach Mike O’Koren coached the Wizards in Jordan’s absence. The Wizards went 1-1 in November with O’Koren in charge when Jordan was hospitalized with a blood clot.
Jordan is expected to return for Friday’s game at Orlando.
Hughes scored 26 points, Etan Thomas had 16 and Jared Jeffries had a career-high 10 assists as the Wizards won their third straight and improved to 25-9 at the MCI Center, the most since the arena opened during the 1997-98 season.
The Wizards have been playing without Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood and Jarvis Hayes, but they just completed their best West Coast road trip in five years and are jockeying for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They haven’t made the postseason since 1997.
Harrington, returning after missing one game with a knee injury, led the Hawks with 20 points. Josh Smith scored 17 as Atlanta fell to 3-34 on the road.
“It gets frustrating, but you’ve got to go through it,” rookie forward Josh Childress said. “You’ve got to learn. We’ve got to learn how to finish games.”
The Wizards didn’t trail through the first three quarters, but they never had a comfortable lead. Early in the fourth, Tony Delk sank a 3-pointer that put the Hawks ahead for the first time.
But Arenas took command down the stretch. He tied the game at 93 with a pair of free throws with 1:55 remaining, then hit a 20-foot baseline jumper off an inbounds pass to give the Wizards the lead with 1:18 to play. Harrington tied the game again with a 10-foot fadeaway over Kwame Brown with 50 seconds left, but Arenas responded with the layup that put Washington ahead to stay.
Before succumbing to the virus, Jordan made a starting lineup change, inserting Laron Profit in place of Brown against the smaller Hawks frontcourt. It was Profit’s fourth start of the season. … The Wizards swept the season series 4-0 and have won five straight overall against the Hawks. … Washington signed forward Damone Brown to a second 10-day contract.