Wizards let down full house vs. Sixers

Night of giveaways ends with 100-88 loss

January 31, 1999|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- It was a day of giving at the MCI Center last night. The Washington Wizards provided free tickets to their first home exhibition game, a free concert by a local school band outside the arena and a free autograph signing session after the game.

And the fans gave as well at halftime, letting the Wizards know exactly how they felt about their performance. The capacity crowd of 20,674 booed as the Wizards walked off the court trailing by 12 points.

It got no better in the second half as the Wizards were beaten by the Philadelphia 76ers, 100-88. After beating the Sixers on Friday in Philadelphia, 74-61, the Wizards came away with a split of their home-and-home exhibition series.

With less than a week to go before the season opener against the Indiana Pacers on Friday, the Wizards have a lot of questions left unanswered. Such as how will the point guard position fare, with Rod Strickland and the Wizards still at an impasse in contract talks? And who will step up at the center position, with the three who played last night -- Terry Davis, Ben Wallace and Jahidi White -- combining for zero field goals and two points in a combined 34 minutes?

Wallace appeared on the verge of having a decent game, blocking three shots and grabbing three rebounds in eight minutes. But he sprained his left ankle in the first quarter, and could miss up to two weeks.

"The center by committee just lost a member," said Wizards coach Bernie Bickerstaff.

For the game the Wizards shot 35.6 percent, with none of the starters hitting more than half their shots. While Mitch Richmond hit just eight of 16 shots as he continues to find his shooting stroke, he did score a team-high 18 points and ignited a rally in the third quarter when he scored 12 of his points.

"I'm still trying to find my seam where I can make my [impact]," said Richmond, who hit five of nine shots in the third quarter. "I need to see where I fit in. I'm trying to get some shots where I normally get them. It's going to take some time, but in the third quarter I did feel like I was more aggressive."

Juwan Howard had 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Randell Jackson had 16 points and seven rebounds for the Wizards. While Calbert Cheaney (groin) and Tracy Murray (ankle) have sat out the two preseason games with injuries, Jackson -- a 6-foot-11 player with the scoring mentality of a shooting guard -- has made quite a mark at the small forward position. He has started both games and impressed the coaching staff.

"He's done a great job," Bickerstaff said of Jackson, who went undrafted after leaving Florida State after his junior season. "If he wants it, he has a chance. The guy's 6-11, that's a weapon."

Said Jackson: "It's been a smooth transition for me, I don't think I've skipped a beat coming from college to the pros. I came in comfortable shooting the ball, and playing with bigger and stronger guys."

In White and Davis, the Wizards have a couple of big, strong guys. But those two could not stop Matt Geiger from scoring 18 points, a demonstration of the team's weakness at center.

"We were really a step slow defensively," Bickerstaff said.

And that won't be acceptable in a week, when the regular season gets under way. The Wizards will open with three games in the first four nights.

"We've only been together nine days," Tim Legler said. "It's impossible to play your best basketball in that short a period of time."

NOTE: Wizards forward Evric Gray was discharged from a Philadelphia hospital after he was injured during the game Friday night. Gray was knocked unconscious and cut on the head during a collision under the basket.

Pub Date: 1/31/99

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