Lakers streak to a halt

Woeful Wizards end L.A.'s string at 19

March 17, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The Los Angeles Lakers came into a sold-out, jacked-up MCI Center last night with the third-longest winning streak in NBA history and an aura that surrounds a team expected to make a serious run at a championship. The aura is still there, but the winning streak is history.

It was ended at 19 games by the Washington Wizards.

That is not a misprint.

Proving once again to be the most underachieving team in the league, the Wizards built a shocking, 21-point lead and held on for a thrilling, 109-102 victory. The Lakers joined the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks, Toronto Raptors and Minnesota Timberwolves among Washington's victims this season.

"It was a good run for us," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, whose team had not lost since a Feb. 1 defeat against San Antonio. "As I've told the players, you've got to have a little luck for things to continue. We had too far to come back."

The Lakers did not succumb easily. After trailing by 19 at halftime -- their largest such deficit of the season -- Los Angeles (53-12) cut Washington's lead to nine by the end of the third quarter and tied, 85-85, with a little under eight minutes left.

But Mitch Richmond, the aging but still able shooting guard, showed what made him an All-Star a few years back. He hit a tough 12-footer with a little over a minute left to give the Wizards a 101-96 lead and later made six straight free throws to help seal the victory for Washington (21-45).

Despite playing the entire fourth quarter with five fouls, Shaquille O'Neal had helped keep the Lakers in the game and finished with a game-high 40 points. But Kobe Bryant, the team's other All-Star, had one of his worst games of the season, seven points on 2-for-10 shooting and six turnovers.

"I think he ran into a wily, old veteran named Mitch Richmond," Jackson said of Bryant, who sat out most of the third quarter after picking up his fourth foul.

As satisfying a victory it was for Richmond and his teammates, there was also a sense of frustration. How can a team that lost back-to-back games earlier this season to the Chicago Bulls -- the only team in the Eastern Conference with a record worse than Washington's -- beat the NBA's best team?

"It definitely frustrates us," said Richmond, who finished with 32 points, half of them in the final quarter. "We just have to find a way to keep that same intensity."

Michael Jordan, who arrived during the second quarter after not seeing the team play live for a few weeks, said he hoped the Wizards would come out tomorrow against his former team as it did last night against his former coach with the Bulls.

"I'll be very disappointed if they don't," said Jordan, team president of basketball operations.

As happened against some of the NBA's other elite teams, the Wizards did not look like, well, the Wizards right from the start. They came out playing hard, hitting their shots, diving for loose balls. The result? Tied at 15 midway through the first quarter, the Wizards went on a 23-3 run.

Meanwhile, the Lakers looked more like the Wizards for much of the first half. In other words, listless and, at times, hapless.

Still, it appeared for a while that the Lakers would storm back, as they had in erasing a 16-point deficit against the Sacramento Kings earlier this week. But after Glen Rice tied the game at 85 on a three-point shot with 7: 52 to go, the Wizards went on a Richmond-inspired, 8-2 run.

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