Wizards losers in mind game Knicks roll, 104-82, extend dominance

November 22, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- Sure, the New York Knicks are going to be physical. And because the Knicks are going to foul hard and challenge every shot, the key is to beat them mentally.

Unfortunately, the Washington Wizards have not learned that. After they took the court against the Knicks last night, it became clear early that the game was going to be personal, and that approach accomplished little in a 104-82 loss before an announced sellout crowd at USAirways Arena.

Despite the change in name and uniforms, Washington continued its dismal play against New York, losing for the 21st time in the teams' last 22 meetings.

It also marked the fourth straight loss this season for the Wizards (4-8), who also dropped to 0-4 at home. The start is two games worse than the team's 6-6 beginning last season.

"It's difficult being where we are now," said Tracy Murray. "We have to fight our way out of it. We're digging a hole and we don't want it to get too deep."

After playing the Knicks tough for one quarter, the Wizards were doomed by a second quarter in which they hit just five of 22 shots. Poor shooting hurt the team throughout as Washington shot 35.7 percent from the field. Much of that poor shooting had to do with the Wizards trying to go one-on-one, which in part could be due to the arrogance the Knicks carry on the court each and every time they play Washington.

"If you looked at our faces on the court, you could see the intent of guys trying -- but with no purpose," said a disappointed Washington coach Bernie Bickerstaff. "We didn't make good decisions offensively. We didn't play as a team offensively."

And one would have expected better, especially with Chris Webber back in the lineup after missing the previous three games with back spasms. Webber started the game well, hitting two of his first three shots -- both three-pointers.

But a sign of the mental aspect of the game surfaced in the middle of the first quarter when Webber, after blocking a Larry Johnson shot, celebrated loudly.

Johnson took offense and threw the ball at Webber. Webber threw the ball back, and then had to be restrained. Both players picked up technical fouls. After that, Webber, perhaps trying a bit too hard, hit just three of his next 14 shots. He wasn't alone in his poor shooting: Juwan Howard, also slowed with a sore back, hit just four of 16 shots.

Both players forced shots, probably due to the frustration of being bottled up by New York's physical defenders -- Charles Oakley and Johnson. It probably doesn't help matters that Oakley has, in the past, spoken about his dislike of Webber and Howard, and Webber's shoulder injury two years ago was caused by tripping over the New York power forward.

"When you take the game personally, then you have problems," Bickerstaff said. "That's when you have a bunch of individuals, and not a team."

Said Murray: "I think every time we play the Knicks it turns personal. We just need to go out and play the game. I don't know about the past things that have been going on between the two teams, but it looks like it's personal out there. We just need to relax and play."

Webber, who said he was "good enough to play," appeared a bit subdued after the game. He scored 15 points, but finished with just six rebounds.

"We missed a lot of shots, and they beat us handily," Webber said. "We're tired of losing, and I think a lot of people are."

Webber, who battled New York backup center Chris Dudley for much of the game, hinted that he was tired of playing without a true big man. With center Gheorghe Muresan (sore right foot tendon) in a cast for the next four weeks, Terry Davis (6 feet 10) will likely remain the center.

"One reason why I'd love to have a big man is that I can run around, jump, try to block shots," Webber said. "It's hard."

Asked if he felt the team was too undermanned to play a deep and physical game like New York, Webber paused for a long time before saying, "No comment."

As for the Knicks, the victory came 24 hours after they thumped the previously unbeaten Atlanta Hawks by 21 points on the road.

"We wanted to build on what we did last night," Johnson said. "It's been a characteristic of ours to follow a great game like last night with a mental and physical letdown. We didn't let that happen."

Pub Date: 11/22/97

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