Washington 116, L.A. Clippers 105

WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 (AP)-- About 15 minutes after game's end, Gilbert Arenas got a handshake, a back slap and a whispered wish of "Happy Birthday'' from Washington Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld.

With that, the star point guard headed for the exit Friday night, off to a star-studded celebration that's been the talk of the locker room and the town.

He sure got the party started early, though.

Arenas scored 29 of his 35 points in the first half and added a season-high 12 assists, leading Washington past the Los Angeles Clippers 116-105 and drawing "M-V-P!'' chants from the sellout crowd of 20,173.

"He really kind of took over,'' Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said, then closed his postgame news conference with a smile and this statement: "All right, we've got a party to go to.''

Arenas scored 13 points in the first quarter, 16 in the second on 7-for-8 shooting, then was 3-for-10 the rest of the way. He also had seven rebounds as the Wizards won for the seventh time in eight games and 15th time in 19.

"We played a great game despite all the excitement surrounding the game tonight,'' the two-time All-Star said. "The win was the most important thing about tonight.''

Not by the sound of the buzz around the Beltway.

Arenas turns 25 on Saturday, and after the game he took off for the invitation-only, black-tie, red-carpet bash hosted at a D.C. club by Sean "Diddy'' Combs. Various Wizards boasted or joked about their well-planned outfits; forward Caron Butler promised he had three looks ready.

In the first quarter, the above-court scoreboard flashed a "Happy Birthday Gilbert!'' graphic, drawing a loud ovation from many of the 20,173 in the stands. Someone handed Arenas an oversized birthday card as he left the court after the game; it rested beside his locker later.

When Arenas stepped to the foul line to complete a three-point play with 0.7 seconds left in the first half, he kept a straight face while fans yelled "M-V-P!''

He provided the latest in a series of superb performances. There were his 60- and 54-point games last month, and his previous outing, when he capped a full stat night (32 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists) with a tiebreaking, buzzer-beating 3-pointer. As that shot went through the net to beat the Bucks on Wednesday, Arenas turned his back to the basket with a sneer and walked away.

This time, he topped 30 with a jumper a little more than a minute into the second half; he's now hit that mark 17 times this season, and Washington is 16-1 in those games. The Southeast Division leader is 3-12 when Arenas is held below 30.

"We tried to go after him, double-team him more. He made some tough shots,'' Los Angeles coach Mike Dunleavy said. "A lot of the shots he made were defended pretty well.''

Butler had 27 points - his fifth consecutive game with at least 20 - along with six assists and five rebounds for Washington, which is 13-3 at home. Antawn Jamison added 19 points, and Brendan Haywood contributed 13 points and 12 rebounds to help the Wizards put up the highest offensive total allowed by Los Angeles this season.

"That's what they do,'' Clippers forward Elton Brand said. "They've got guys that are fast and versatile.''

Brand had 29 points and 12 rebounds for the Clippers, who are 3-12 on the road.

What's the root of their troubles away from home?

"Lack of concentration and focus. We're not mentally tough. We crack too easy. We give leads up too easy,'' said Shaun Livingston, who had 19 points, eight assists and five steals. "That's not a sign of a good team.''

After allowing 39 points in the first quarter, a season high for the Clippers in any period, the Wizards tightened up. They forced seven turnovers while committing none in the second period and limited the Clippers to 5-for-17 shooting (29 percent) while taking a 66-57 halftime lead.

"They are too offensively gifted,'' Livingston said. "Defensively - that's not their specialty. But offensively, that's what they want to do.''

Notes: Including his layup to end the first half, Arenas has made nine shots this season with 3 or fewer seconds remaining in a quarter. ... Clippers G Cuttino Mobley returned after missing a game with a left elbow injury. He shot 1-for-8. ... Clippers G Sam Cassell missed his seventh consecutive game with a left heel injury.

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