AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- It looked like a game in May, not one at the midpoint of the regular season.
Antawn Jamison scored a season-high 35 points and Gilbert Arenas had 25 to help the Washington Wizards hold off the Detroit Pistons 99-96 on Friday night, taking over the best record in the Eastern Conference with half the season left.
"That was a heavyweight fight," Washington coach Eddie Jordan said. "We took a Joe Frazier left hook, and we got right up.
"I know they are going to be ready for a rematch. Just because we're up in the standings, we are not the champions of the East. They've been the champions and we are always going to be the hunter, not the hunted."
The Wizards (25-17) have won five of six, holding off surging Detroit to go a half-game ahead in the conference standings.
"It feels good because we deserve this," Arenas said. "We've fought our way back."
The Pistons (24-17) lost for the first time in four games with Chris Webber in the starting lineup, but they hope the addition of the star center will help them at least reach the conference finals for the fifth straight year.
Detroit was 36-5 at the same point last season.
"The records are not even close and our team is very different, but we're still right in the mix," Chauncey Billups said. "Our concern is coming into April playing our best ball of the season, and we're not far from it."
The Pistons often seemed to win close games in the final seconds last season, but they're often falling short this season. They're 2-6 in games decided by three or fewer points.
Jamison, who had a pair of three-point plays about a minute apart midway through the fourth quarter, made a 3-pointer with 50.1 seconds left to give the Wizards a 95-94 lead.
"That was big because they were starting to get momentum," Jamison said.
After Billups made two free throws on the next possession, Butler sealed the win with four free throws and a defensive rebound in the final 30 seconds.
Rasheed Wallace missed an open 3-pointer with 7.9 seconds left and a contested shot from beyond the arc just before the buzzer, ending up with the ball on a botched play.
"Washington figured out what we were going to do on that last play," Tayshaun Prince said.
Richard Hamilton scored 27 points for the Pistons and Billups had 11 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter.
The Wizards took control in the third quarter with a 20-6 run and took a 72-64 lead into the fourth.
Much of the final quarter had the feel of a playoff game with four lead changes and four ties in the last 3 ½ minutes. It seemed that each time Detroit made a shot or stop, the Wizards answered with a clutch play.
"In November, we lose that game by 50 points," Jordan said.
Jamison carried Washington as Arenas missed 17 of 27 shots and the only other scorer in double figures was Brendan Haywood, who had 10 points.
"Antawn is our captain, and he showed why," Jordan said.
Arenas did make up for his poor shooting with 10 assists and six rebounds.
Detroit reserve Antonio McDyess scored 15 points, Wallace had 14 and Prince added 11.
The second-leading scorers -- Butler and Billups -- for both teams struggled offensively, each missing their first six shots until finally making a basket in the final minute of the third quarter.
Butler finished with eight points after scoring at least 21 in the previous five games and being the only Wizard who had scored in double figures in every game this season. Billups had more rebounds (nine) than points (six) through three quarters before leading Detroit's rally that fell short in the fourth.
Free throws helped the Wizards win. They went 23-of-26 while Detroit was 15-of-22 at the line.
"You can't shoot (68 percent) from the free throw line and win in these close games," Detroit coach Flip Saunders said.
- Webber had six points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks
- The Wizards have won three of their last four games at The Palace
- Half of the starters were either former North Carolina stars (Wallace, Jamison and Haywood) or ex-Connecticut standouts (Hamilton and Butler)