Wizards make right turn, 94-90

Strong 2nd half vs. Hawks helps stop nine-game slide

January 22, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - When the road has been as cluttered with potholes and land mines as the Washington Wizards' 2000-2001 season has been to date, it's prudent not to read too much into one successful part of the journey.

That's why coach Leonard Hamilton wasn't so willing to attach too much significance to yesterday's 94-90 win over the Atlanta Hawks at MCI Center.

Sure it was great to end a nine-game losing streak, albeit against a lowly team like the Hawks, but Hamilton has seen enough misery this season to know a flat tire could be just around the corner, as early as tomorrow night's home game with Charlotte.

"What we have to do is enjoy this victory, not try to make a whole lot of declarations and statements and try to keep it [in] perspective that we've won one game, one in a row," Hamilton said. "For it to be meaningful and for us to enjoy it, we need to come back and play another good game [tomorrow] night."

For a change, Washington (8-34) not only came back from a second-half deficit - as large as nine points midway through the third period - but the Wizards also sustained a credible defensive effort for the half, holding the Hawks (14-25) to 37 percent shooting from the floor for the third and fourth quarters.

Atlanta point guard Brevin Knight had a career-high 31 points, one of five Hawks starters in double figures. But no other Atlanta player scored more than 16.

"We played hard on both ends the entire 24 minutes of the second half, which hasn't always happened," Washington guard Chris Whitney said. "We've been getting down in the third quarter. We came out and got it going."

Whitney, who has taken over the point guard role in the absence of Rod Strickland, who has missed the last 13 games due to suspension and injuries, played an inspired game, with 18 points, including four three-pointers, and nine assists to go with Juwan Howard's 25 points.

Whitney, a 6-foot-1, seven-year veteran from Clemson, played most of the game in pain, as he rolled on his right ankle late in the first quarter. Whitney's left ankle has also been ailing throughout the season, but he returned in the second quarter and provided a spark.

"Chris brings it [toughness] every day to practice and to the games," Hamilton said. "The biggest difference today is that his teammates followed his lead. We all were very focused, and they really, really wanted to win this game. It meant an awful lot to them, and that's the desire and focus that you always want to see."

Indeed, the Wizards owed Atlanta a bit of payback for a 27-point loss here in late November, though the win wasn't secured until late, as Whitney and Richard Hamilton, who had a game-high 29 points, combined to hit 10 straight free throws down the stretch.

"It feels great [to win a game]. You feel like you get the monkey off your back. When you win so much in your career, then you haven't won so much this year, you forget. You get more and more excited every time you get a win," said Richard Hamilton, who helped lead Connecticut to the NCAA title in 1999. "Now, we just have to build. We can't be happy today and be sad tomorrow. It [winning] makes your whole day better."

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