Wizards leave Brovelli at loss in debut, 97-93

For interim coach, little changes vs. Nets

April 07, 1999|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- For Jim Brovelli, it was his first game as interim head coach. For the Washington Wizards, it was the same old disappointing result.

For a team needing a hot streak to get into the postseason, the Wizards, playing at home last night, could not even take care of the worst team in the Eastern Conference, losing to the New Jersey Nets, 97-93, on a night on which they attempted the fewest free throws by an NBA team this season -- five.

Think the crowd of 13,101 at the MCI Center had mercy on Brovelli and the Wizards, a team in transition? Hardly. Just as the fans booed the Wizards under former coach Bernie Bickerstaff, who was fired Monday, they booed the team at game's end last night as the Wizards (13-20) went scoreless during one pivotal stretch of over three minutes late in the game.

That cold spell was why Washington was outscored in the fourth quarter for the 26th time this season, in 33 games.

"It's something we have to overcome, getting into the fourth quarter and not making plays," said Brovelli, who had filled in for Bickerstaff twice earlier this season. "There's no question we're frustrated. When you lose as many close games as we have in the fourth quarter, it becomes frustrating and it becomes mental."

The words "frustrating" and "mental" are probably the right ones to describe the late-game play of Wizards guard Mitch Richmond, whose shooting touch appears to gotten lost on the recent five-game road trip in which he averaged 28.2 points and hit half of his shots.

Richmond took six shots in the fourth quarter last night, and missed them all. During one crucial sequence, he missed a driving layup in traffic with 1: 45 left and the Wizards trailing by three, and followed that by fumbling a pass out-of-bounds when he appeared to have a clear path to the basket.

For Richmond, that was his sixth turnover, and he looked upward in frustration and pounded the basket-support padding.

Richmond finished the game with 14 points, but missed 12 of 17 shots in the process. He left the game briefly with a swollen left eye in the first half, but said that was not a factor in his game.

"It was just a bad night all around, one of my worst performances," Richmond said. "I had some good looks at the basket, but they just didn't go down for me.

"Being a leader and not playing so well, I kind of got down on myself and maybe that carried over," Richmond added.

That the Wizards attempted just five free throws in the game, a record since the franchise moved to Washington in 1973-74, is an indication of a team that fails to take the ball to the basket and settles too often for the jump shot.

Richmond and Rod Strickland each took 17 shots last night, but combined to take two free throws (both by Richmond).

"We got the ball inside," Brovelli said of his team, which had 48 points in the paint. "But we don't get a lot of shots off the dribble."

As the Wizards struggled, the Nets (9-24) were getting big games from Keith Van Horn and Stephon Marbury, who combined to score 55 points.

Marbury led the Nets with 29, and Van Horn added 26 as the team -- which also recently underwent a coaching change, firing John Calipari and replacing him with Don Casey -- won its fourth straight.

"I just wanted to win," Marbury said. "We played great defense. When we start winning consistently, it's easier. Teams start getting scared of you."

Maybe at some point in the final 17 games the Wizards will strike fear in other teams, but it's likely by then it will be too late to help the team's playoff chances.

"We have to take it one game at a time, one day at a time," Otis Thorpe said. "But we're at home. This should have been our game. It wasn't."

Also yesterday, the Wizards received permission to interview 76ers assistant Maurice Cheeks for their vacant coaching job.

Wizards general manager Wes Unseld called 76ers GM Billy King, who gave permission for Cheeks, a former star guard for Philadelphia, to interview for the position.

Though Brovelli was named interim coach after Bickerstaff's firing, Unseld has made it clear he wants to hire someone else before the season is over.

Pub Date: 4/07/99

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