WASHINGTON -- With first place on the line, Caron Butler was upset that he wasn't playing in the fourth quarter. When he finally got back into the game, he made the go-ahead basket with 46 seconds remaining and followed it up with a good defensive play at the other end.
Then, unbelievably, the 88 percent free-throw shooter missed a pair at the line with 2.8 seconds to go.
But the Washington Wizards are on a roll, and even that crack in the nerves wasn't enough to stop them. A tough, running 15-footer by Keyon Dooling banked off the glass at the buzzer, preserving a 112-111 victory over the Orlando Magic that put the team alone atop the Southeast Division.
"I was mad, I was eager to get in," said Butler, who scored 20 points but played only three minutes in the final period. "And when I got in, I wanted to make a good case. I wanted to make a shot."
And those wayward free throws?
"Honestly, I just mentally messed up," he said. "I just lost focus for a minute. That's something that will never happen again."
Gilbert Arenas scored 14 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter and had nine rebounds and seven assists, Antawn Jamison added 25 points and 11 rebounds and DeShawn Stevenson scored 11 points against his old team. The Wizards have won a season-high five straight and have overcome a six-game deficit to the Magic since the start of December.
The Wizards have scored 106 or more points in 13 straight games, more than compensating for the fact that they're last in the league in scoring defense. They haven't been in first place this late since the 1978-79 season.
"To beat them, going for first place, that's two daggers in one day," said Stevenson, who left the Magic on sour terms over the summer.
Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Dooling scored 20 points apiece for the Magic, who have lost four straight and seven of nine. It wasn't hard for them to explain why the Wizards are now the team on top.
"Well, they've got a little bird down there named Gilbert who's not too bad," Dooling said. "He's one of those guys who's special. He'll go down in history as being one of the greatest. He showed his greatness in the second half. He just turned it on and it's almost impossible to guard him."
Arenas has scored 30-plus in five straight, and his fourth-quarter performance was stellar. He accelerated through the paint for a layup, used his strength to set up a three-point play by bouncing off Turkoglu and made outside jumpers.
All of his points were needed because the Magic kept the game close. Jameer Nelson drove through the lane to give Orlando a 108-107 lead with 2:24 to play. Jamison made one of two free throws to tie the game with 1:48 left, setting up a tense conclusion.
Howard missed a hook shot in traffic. Arenas missed a wild runner. Dooling missed a 3-pointer. Butler came through with his 16-footer from the baseline, then contested Turkoglu's missed jumper at the other end. Jamison made two free throws to get the lead to four with 13 seconds left, and Dooling made a 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds left. Then Butler missed his free throws and Dooling missed his shot at the buzzer.
"It wasn't a smooth game," Washington coach Eddie Jordan said. "But Gilbert just took control."
Washington shot 56 percent in the half, but that wasn't enough to keep pace with Orlando's 63 percent. Nelson drove through the lane with little resistance to make the score 63-55 at the half.
But the Wizards' defense did just enough to rattle the Magic in the third quarter. Orlando opened the second half 1-for-9 from the field -- including three airballs -- and failed to take advantage when center Brendan Haywood left the game for a few minutes with a sprained right ankle.
The Wizards led by nine in the final minute of the third quarter before the Magic began a 10-0 run, retaking the lead on Howard's dunk early in the fourth. Neither team led by more than five the rest of the way.
- All of Turkoglu's season-high 20 points came in the first half.
- With one game to play in December, Arenas is on pace to become the second player in Wizards history to average 35 points over a month. Walt Bellamy averaged 35.7 in January 1962.
- Jamison's first name is always getting misspelled, but he wanted to make his firstborn son a junior. The solution: Switch a couple of letters around. Antwan Cortez Jamison Jr. was born Thursday night, the second child of the Wizards forward and his wife, Ione. "I just didn't want him to go through what I went through," Jamison said. "So we made life easier on him."