Preview: Wizards at Hornets

As good as Gilbert Arenas is, the Washington Wizards know they can`t rely on him to carry them every game.

The Wizards (20-14) hope to put together another balanced offensive effort Friday night when they face the injury-plagued New Orleans Hornets (13-22) in Oklahoma City.

Oddsmakers have the Wizards as 7 1/2-point favorites with the total set at 202.

Arenas ranks second in the NBA with 30.2 points per game, and he`s the catalyst for a Washington club that is averaging 108.2 points per contest, also good for second in the league.

Arenas was named the NBA`s player of the week Monday for the third time in five weeks. He averaged 33.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 2.7 steals in three games last week, and hit a 32-foot winning shot against Milwaukee on Jan. 3.

Arenas, however, was well below his average Wednesday, scoring just 20 points in a 113-103 victory over Chicago. The Wizards handled it fine, as five other players scored in double figures and Caron Butler recorded 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

Washington`s reserves outscored Chicago`s 32-30, the first time the Wizards held an edge in that category since Nov. 17 against Detroit, a span of 25 games.

"It was a total team effort. When you have balance across the board like that, any team is difficult to beat," said Antonio Daniels, who matched a season high with 15 points. "Gil can`t score 40 points every night, so that`s the job of other people. When Gil`s not scoring 50 points, everybody else has to be ready to step up and make up the difference."

The Wizards have reached the 100-point mark in 18 straight games and are 16-5 in their last 21 contests. Defense, however, hasn`t been the reason for the hot streak.

Wizards opponents have scored in triple digits in 12 straight games, and Washington ranks near the bottom of the league with 106.7 points allowed per contest.

Forward Etan Thomas returned to the Wizards lineup Wednesday after missing 13 games with a sprained left ankle and had five points and two rebounds in 16 minutes.

New Orleans won for the first time in six games Wednesday, beating Atlanta 96-77. Jannero Pargo scored 24 points and Rasual Butler added 21 for the Hornets, whose five-game losing streak matched a season high.

"We`ve had great opportunities to win in the last 4 or 5 minutes of the game but we`ve made too many mistakes, and the other team has capitalized off those mistakes every time," Butler said. "That lets us know we`re playing good enough to win."

The Hornets were without their three leading scorers in Chris Paul, Peja Stojakovic and David West, as well as top reserve Bobby Jackson. Coach Byron Scott hopes that West (elbow) and Jackson (ribs) can return in two weeks, but indicated Paul (ankle) might be sidelined for the rest of the month or even until the All-Star break.

Stojakovic has been out since November and is recovering from lower back surgery.

The Hornets and Wizards are meeting for the first time this season. They split their two-game series in 2005-06.

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