WASHINGTON (AP)—After getting back to the .500 mark, the Washington Wizards hope their worst basketball is behind them.
“We started off hot and then we cooled down, but we stayed alive,” said Gilbert Arenas, who had 28 points and five assists to lead the Wizards to a 96-89 victory over the road-weary Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night. “We’re .500 and it’s great for us now. Let’s work on making that our worst month of the season.”
Antawn Jamison, who had 20 points and 15 rebounds for his sixth straight double-double, echoed that sentiment for the Wizards—who won five of their first six games.
“We wanted to end the month with at least a .500 record,” said Jamison, who has totaled 88 rebounds in his last six games. “We definitely wanted to come out and try to get back on track the way were were earlier in this month and get this kind of momentum going into next month. It’s always positive when you can keep it at .500.”
Coincidentally, the Wizards are 3-3 against Western Conference teams and 4-4 against Eastern Conference clubs.
“This game was similar to the ones that we have played all month,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “We had our ups and downs, ebbs and flows, and Gilbert made a big shot at the end.”
After Arenas made two free throws that gave the Wizards an 87-83 lead with 2:19 left, Joel Przybilla scored six straight points to keep the Trail Blazers close until Arenas made a 3-pointer for a 93-89 lead with 34 seconds remaining.
Darius Miles led Portland with 21 points before fouling out with 18 seconds left on the play that sealed Washington’s victory. Jared Jeffries stole the ball from Zach Randolph and passed to Jarvis Hayes, who converted a three-point play over Randolph that gave the Wizards a 96-89 lead.
“I think that’s what I bring to this team,” Jeffries said. “We have guys who can score the ball at a great rate, so it’s a matter of coming in and doing things other people don’t do quite as well.”
Przybilla had season-highs of 17 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks as the Trail Blazers concluded a 2-5 road trip—their longest of the season.
“I’m just going out there playing and getting a better feel for the players and the system,” Przybilla said. “It was a good night but we had 21 turnovers. That’s like giving them a 10 or 15-point lead at the beginning of the game.”
The Trail Blazers also gave up 21 offensive rebounds to the Wizards, who got 13 points and nine rebounds from Brendan Haywood.
“When we get good penetration from our guards it makes it easier to get to the glass,” Haywood said. “We’re still not playing great basketball. We’re playing decent but we have to step it up if we want to win basketball games. Every time we have a good win we have a devastating loss, so we just have to keep working hard.”
The Wizards went on a 10-0 run midway through the third quarter after playing a sloppy first half that included numerous missed layups, traveling calls and a shot-clock violation.
“It’s only a matter of time as far as the new guys getting acquainted with what we want to do on offense,” Jamison said.
Portland took an early 10-point lead on a slam follow by Przybilla with 3:25 remaining in the first quarter. The Trail Blazers led by as many as 12 points in the first half.
Washington had a 53-51 lead at halftime, despite not leading by more than two points in the first two quarters.
Former Wizards and Maryland star Juan Dixon entered the game in the final minute of the first quarter and received a rousing ovation. He finished with 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting in 28 minutes.
Steve Blake, another former Wizards and Terrapins player, started the fourth quarter to less fanfare. He was scoreless in 4 minutes.
Wizards coach Eddie Jordan played 13 games for the Trail Blazers in 1983-84. … Trail Blazers GM John Nash held the same post in Washington for six seasons. … On Singles Night at MCI Center, one fan got a date with Wizards guard Donell Taylor by winning a Dating Game.