WASHINGTON - The Washington Wizards made it back to national television last night for the first time since Michael Jordan finished his career there, and showed why they might be worthy of a few more appearances as their promising season progresses.
Taken advantage of the road-weary, slow-starting Seattle SuperSonics, the Wizards built a 19-point lead late in the first half and withstood a second-half comeback by the NBA's fourth-best team before pulling out a 107-96 win at MCI Center.
The victory, only the fifth for Washington (18-13) in 15 games this season against a team with a winning record, came at the expense of a team finishing an eight-day, five-game road trip.
"Just determination and a killer instinct against a quality team, a team that's really tough to play against and to defend," Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said.
Washington had six players in double figures, with point guard Gilbert Arenas getting a team-high 27 points. Larry Hughes added 21 points.
The grueling road schedule, including a 3 a.m. arrival in Washington after an 18-point loss in Orlando on Wednesday night, made for a fairly sleepless night for Seattle (23-8).
"I think it took its toll on us," Allen said. "It felt like we were running in mud."
Knowing that it couldn't get into a running game with one of the NBA's free-wheeling teams, the Wizards worked to get the ball inside early, and Brendan Haywood helped build an early double-digit lead that Washington didn't relinquish until the fourth quarter.
The 7-foot center exposed Seattle's biggest weakness, its inside game, and went to the foul line four times in the first quarter, hitting all eight free throws to set the tone for a night when the Wizards made 31 of 35 foul shots overall, including 11 of 11 by Arenas.
"We slowed it down on our end and attacked the rim and got to the foul line," Arenas said. "Brendan did a great job in getting their big fellow [Jerome James] out of there as quick as possible."
Jordan eventually had to get Haywood out of there, too, and used his backup, Kwame Brown, judiciously. Though Brown only played five minutes - entering the game to a smattering of boos - the former No. 1 pick delivered a crushing screen on Seattle point guard Luke Ridnour that helped free Arenas for a crucial three-point play.
It came after the Sonics had cut Washington's lead to 92-86 with a little over six minutes left.
Jordan could tell that his team was excited by its first national television appearance in nearly two seasons.
"It's the first time that the guys who didn't play wore their suits instead of their jeans and T-shirts," joked Jordan.
NOTE: The Wizards yesterday announced that point guard Steve Blake has been placed on the injured list with a sprained left ankle suffered in Tuesday's win over New Jersey. Blake's spot on the roster was taken by another ex-Terp, Laron Profit.