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Wizards hot, but defense not so magical

WP: Throughout an impressive stretch that has seen the Wizards go 15-5 over their last 20 games, Coach Eddie Jordan has simultaneously praised his team's efforts and pointed out flaws.
Gilbert Arenas, Chris Kaman
Gilbert Arenas leads the high-scoring Wizards, but the team's defense is lacking.Kevin Wolf / AP
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Throughout an impressive stretch that has seen the Wizards go 15-5 over their last 20 games, Coach Eddie Jordan has simultaneously praised his team's efforts and pointed out flaws.

At 19-14, the Wizards have placed themselves squarely in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff picture and the team has dug out of its early rut by knocking off several of the league's better teams, including the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers.

Still, Sunday's 116-111 loss at Toronto highlighted a few areas the Wizards need to work on, including a nasty habit of giving up uncontested perimeter shots, an inability to shut down a hot post scorer -- on Sunday it was Raptors forward Chris Bosh -- and a lack of production from an injury-depleted bench that has been consistently outscored by opposing reserves.

"We are getting better at some aspects and we are not getting better at others," Jordan said following Friday's 116-105 win over the Los Angeles Clippers at Verizon Center. "We need to improve the defense and we need to be better at rebounding."

Those two areas will be tested tomorrow night when the Wizards host the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls outrebounded (49-36) and outshot (50.6 percent to 42.5 percent) the Wizards during a 112-94 win in Chicago on Dec. 2 and are on a hot streak, having won 16 of their past 22 games.

The Wizards continue to score at an impressive rate. Sunday's loss was the 17th consecutive game in which they scored at least 100 points. With an average of 108 points per game, the Wizards are the second-highest scoring team in the league behind the Suns, who are averaging 110.8 points.

The Wizards beat the Suns, 144-139, in a memorable overtime shootout on Dec. 22. The greatest gap between the teams, however, is scoring differential. The Wizards are allowing 106.8 points per game, just 1.28 points fewer than they are scoring. The Suns are allowing 102.8, scoring eight points more than they are giving up.

During an 18-game stretch that concluded with Wednesday's 108-105 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Wizards averaged just over 119 points per 100 possessions. To put that in historical perspective, the 72-win Michael Jordan-led Bulls of 1995-96 -- considered to be one of the greatest teams in league history -- averaged 115.8.

However, during the same stretch, the Wizards allowed 114.5 points per 100 possessions, which is about the same as the 62-loss Denver Nuggets of 1990-91.

The Wizards showed how dangerous they can be in the fourth quarter Sunday when they flirted with erasing a 22-point deficit by ending the game on a 30-13 run.

The key difference between the teams was overall energy. After getting off to a sluggish start, the Wizards picked up their defensive intensity when Jordan went to a press in the fourth quarter, started forcing turnovers and began hitting shots.

"The thing we have to do is come out with that kind of energy at the start of the game," said Caron Butler, who scored 15 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter. "When we've done that, we've proven that we can beat any team in this league."

All About Arenas
Gilbert Arenas won the Eastern Conference player of the week award for the third time this season. He was similarly honored for the weeks ending Dec. 11 and Dec. 18 and was named conference's player of the month for December.

Arenas's lavish celebration Friday night of his 25th birthday was part of an already good week. He led the Wizards to a 2-1 record last week by averaging 33.3 points, 7.3 assists and 2.7 steals. He made 47.1 percent of his shots, 84.4 percent of his free throws and established season highs with 11 rebounds against Milwaukee on Wednesday and 12 assists against the Clippers on Friday.

The Wizards are 16-2 when Arenas scores at least 30 points this season.