WASHINGTON -- Agent Zero appears to be rounding into form.
He thinks so. So do his teammates. And his former coach, too.
Brilliant at the start and finish, though basically silent in between, Gilbert Arenas scored 31 points Tuesday night -- two games after putting in 45 -- to lead the Washington Wizards past the Philadelphia 76ers 105-98.
"I feel a lot better than I did at the beginning" of the season, said Arenas, who missed all but two games in 2008-09 after three knee operations in 1 1/2 years. "The rhythm, the dribbling in the lane, just moving without the ball: It's all coming back."
He opened the game with a personal 7-0 run: 3-pointer, 20-foot fadeaway, 19-foot jumper. He finished the opening quarter with 15 points. Then, after adding only two points in each of the next two periods, the three-time All-Star guard came back out of his shell in the fourth quarter, scoring 12.
Arenas finished with eight rebounds and two assists. The second, though, set up a dunk by Caron Butler that capped a 16-6 run, taking the Wizards from a four-point deficit to a 96-90 lead with about 4 minutes remaining.
Arenas and Butler scored all 16 of Washington's points in that span.
"He was penetrating and making things happen," Butler said. "He was getting to the paint, doing a lot of things. Doing what he [does] best: drawing defenders and making plays and finishing the game. That's exactly what we needed."
Over the past four games, Arenas is averaging 32.8 points. The first three of those games -- including a 45-point, 13-assist outing against his former team, Golden State -- came during a road trip on the other side of the country.
"All it takes is a couple games to get somebody's spirit going," Arenas said. "I found it on the West, and I'm trying to keep it going."
Philadelphia coach Eddie Jordan, fired by the Wizards after their 1-10 start last season, acknowledged his former star player made the difference Tuesday. But Jordan also made sure to point to his current team's defensive deficiencies.
"He took it over," Jordan said. "Gilbert was very good driving in the paint. We gave him too many layups."
Explained Jordan: "We had a horrible defensive fourth quarter. Horrible. Horrible."
This wasn't exactly a showdown between league powers; Philadelphia is 7-21, and Washington is 9-17. The only Eastern Conference team with fewer victories is New Jersey, which is an NBA-worst 2-26.
Still, the Wizards had to be pleased with the way they pulled out this victory after dropping their previous three home games by a total of five points. Plus, Washington lost by 26 in its last outing, at Phoenix on Saturday, a performance coach Flip Saunders called "extremely disappointing and pretty much unacceptable."
Speaking before Tuesday's game, Saunders wondered aloud about the "concentration level from the guys."
Things didn't look good for his club when Thaddeus Young's three-point play gave the 76ers their first lead, 51-49, less than 2 minutes into the second half.
A few minutes later, the 76ers were ahead 58-52, and Saunders made wholesale substitutions, yanking all five starters from the court. As captain Antawn Jamison walked to the sideline, he kicked the advertising sign along the nearby baseline.
Asked after the game about the lineup changes, Jamison said: "I have no comment on that."
"We had guys that were mad," the coach said. "I told them, 'You could be mad, but you're not half as mad as I am with the effort that we gave."
Elton Brand, who led the 76ers with 18 points and 12 rebounds, sounded a similar note about his team.
"If we're going to not box out, not rebound, not play 'D,' then you shouldn't be out there," Brand said. "We need games right now. We need to be hungry."
Reserve guard Earl Boykins scored 18 for Washington, which had lost seven of eight. ... Butler scored 14 points. Jamison had only seven points -- he shot 1 for 6 -- and five rebounds. ... Philadelphia's Allen Iverson (knee, shoulder) missed a third consecutive game.
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