Wizards turn back Hawks

Reserves get season off to good start, 94-87

November 03, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- With many of the starters injured or unavailable during the preseason, the reserves of the Washington Wizards got plenty of playing time in the team's five exhibition games. It resulted in a boost of confidence in themselves, as well as from first-year coach Gar Heard.

That experience from the past month came in handy in last night's season opener against the Atlanta Hawks at the MCI Center. With shooting guard Mitch Richmond in foul trouble and center Isaac Austin still out of sync, the reserves helped lift the Wizards to a 94-87 victory before an announced crowd of 16,038.

"I thought as a team we played well," said Heard, celebrating his first victory in his second stint as an NBA head coach. "You've got to give credit to the bench and the young guys. They really kept us in the game but it wasn't like they hadn't been in that situation before."

They helped the Wizards build a seven-point lead at halftime, and were on the floor when Washington stretched its lead to as many as 16 in the fourth quarter. Atlanta closed to within five, 92-87, with 1: 42 left, but could get no closer by committing consecutive turnovers.

While Juwan Howard led the Wizards with 21 points, it was a couple of backups and a third-stringer who contributed significantly to Washington's cause. Backup guards Chris Whitney and rookie Richard Hamilton each finished with 10 points, and Washington's bench outscored Atlanta's, 45-19.

Perhaps the most surprising impression was left by an unlikely source -- third-string center Gerard King. Playing 14 minutes because of backup center Jahidi White's foul trouble, King finished with 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting.

"He's kind of a secret," Heard said of the 6-foot-9, 250-pound King, who played a limited role in backing up Tim Duncan and David Robinson on the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in his rookie season. "No one knows a lot about him, but he's played well for us since he got here."

King -- whom some fans at courtside were mockingly calling "Bernard" when he first came into the game -- was on the floor when the Wizards scored on nine straight possessions to turn a 36-34 deficit into a 52-45 halftime lead. King hit four straight shots, most of them along the baseline. In most cases, Atlanta center Dikembe Mutombo let King shoot.

"It was like he was playing a game of H-O-R-S-E," joked Heard.

Hamilton was the team's first-round draft choice. After starting all of the exhibition games while former All-Pro Mitch Richmond nursed a hamstring injury, the former Connecticut star played 16 minutes last night. Hamilton missed five of the eight shots he attempted, but made a couple of them during Washington's game-breaking run.

Then there was Laron Profit. The former Maryland standout received the loudest ovation of any Wizard in the pre-game introductions, and another when he came in for the first time with about three minutes to go in the first half. Profit earned the last spot on the team because of his defense, and last night he showed Heard's faith was justified.

Coming in for Hamilton with 1: 55 left in the game and Washington ahead, 92-84, Profit initially got burned by Jimmy Jackson, who made a mid-range jumper and was fouled by the rookie. But Profit redeemed himself quickly and helped stave off Atlanta's comeback.

After Rod Strickland (12 points, 10 assists) scored a tough layup in traffic for what turned out to be the final points of the game, Profit forced Jackson, a former All-Star, to pick up his dribble and throw the ball out of bounds.

"I made a mistake," Profit said of Jackson's three-point play. "I also learned my lesson. The second time, I stayed down and forced him to make a tough play."

NOTES: Former Duke star Roshown McLeod, in his second season with the Hawks, led Atlanta with 22 points. The Hawks played without shooting guard J.R. Rider, who left the team Monday because of the death of his grandfather. He will rejoin the team for practice today. The Wizards play the Celtics in Boston tonight. Richmond played only 24 minutes, missing 10 of 13 shots, before fouling out. "I can't remember the last time I fouled out," he said.

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