Streaking Wizards beat Wolves, 115-108

Career-high 26 for Lopez

Washington's run hits two

Pro Basketball

January 03, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - There's a proverb that states that the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. While the NBA playoffs or even a .500 record are a long way away for the Washington Wizards, last night's 115-108 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves indicates a baby step in the right direction.

The victory, the Wizards' second straight, marked the first time in 39 games that the team has won consecutive games, dating back to last season when Washington beat Boston on March 31 and New Jersey on April 4.

More significantly, the win, coming against a quality playoff team at a fairly advanced juncture of the season, seems to indicate that the Wizards (7-25) may be turning a corner.

"They [Wizards players] have not backed up at all," said Washington coach Leonard Hamilton. "They are still extremely determined that we're going to turn our season around. We're getting better. We're finding a rhythm. In order for us to answer those questions, we have to continue to play better."

Seasonal highs abounded for Washington, which hit 34 of 40 foul shots, sinking its last 14. The team's 115 points was a high mark, eclipsing the 110 in Sunday's victory over Detroit. Felipe Lopez scored a team-high 26 points, a career-high mark.

And in his fourth straight start at point guard, Chris Whitney had 14 points, including a three-pointer and a fadeaway jumper in the middle of the fourth quarter to stretch the Washington lead to nine, along with a season-high 13 assists in 46 minutes.

"It's easy for me. It's what I've been doing all my life, running teams," said Whitney, a heretofore unheralded seven-year veteran out of Clemson. "But the last few games, I've been leading the team really well. Guys are really confident. And it's not just individual confidence, but it's team confidence. And that helps a lot."

Meanwhile, the Wizards, who got a career-high five blocks from center Calvin Booth, played exceptional defense on Minnesota forward Kevin Garnett, he of the $121 million contract. Garnett had a game-high 31 points, but was largely held in check for most of the second half as Juwan Howard and Obinna Ekezie took turns late in the game defending him.

"It's very difficult to stop a player of his caliber with one player. Juwan did a nice job, but we tried to give as much help as possible," Hamilton said. "We did a nice job defending him in the first half, but he hit some tough shots. He's a great player."

The team's improved play and Whitney's increased minutes of late have come in the absence of Rod Strickland, who missed a second straight game with ailing hamstrings after a suspension for missing two practices and a team flight last week.

Wizards general manager Wes Unseld said Strickland was evaluated by his personal doctor before last night's game, but the team has not received a report from Strickland or his agent, David Falk. Unseld said Strickland was seen by a team doctor before Sunday's game, but declined to say what the evaluation was. Unseld said he didn't know when the team will find out what Strickland's doctor has determined.

Also off the court, Wizards reserve forward Michael Smith was arrested Monday at a Southwest Washington nightclub. He was charged with simple assault after a brawl broke out in the early morning hours at the club. The victim alleged she was repeatedly kicked and beaten.

Two women were also arrested with Smith, a Washington native, who said in a statement issued by his publicist before last night's game that he was "completely innocent" and would fight "this assault on my reputation and on the esteem in which I am held in the community with all my strength."

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