Howard turns around Wizards

Hornets' rally fails as jumper falls, 97-95

January 24, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Who said things were supposed to make sense in the NBA?

The Charlotte Hornets, one of the Eastern Conference's best teams, hit nine of 15 three-pointers last night at MCI Center, while the Washington Wizards, one of the league's worst teams, hit none.

The Hornets brought in one of the league's talented, if unheralded, backcourts in Baron Davis and David Wesley, while the Wizards not only were without both of their regular starting point guards, but had Richard Hamilton, their makeshift playmaker, foul out with less than two minutes to go.

So, of course, in a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction outcome, the Wizards won. Juwan Howard's baseline turnaround with 1.8 seconds left lifted Washington to a 97-95 victory, its second straight, before a crowd of 11,579 that included a rare appearance by president of basketball operations Michael Jordan.

Howard, who had a team-high 22 points, drilled an eight-footer from the left baseline over Charlotte's Derrick Coleman to give Washington (9-34) a hard-fought victory, its second of the season over the Hornets (23-20).

"I was mad at myself last time when I had that opportunity against Seattle [two weeks ago]," Howard said. "I was going to make this no matter what. I just made sure that when I shot it, I put enough arc on it that it had a good chance of going in."

Howard then made the defensive stop on Charlotte's last possession, getting in the face of Elden Campbell, whose 15-footer fell short. The Hornets have now lost 11 of their past 14 games.

"The most significant thing is that these guys are able to maintain focus and continue to keep playing hard and believing in themselves and staying together, and not allow themselves to get down because we have not gotten off to a good start," Washington coach Leonard Hamilton said.

The Wizards had more than a little adversity to deal with from start to finish. Rod Strickland, the incumbent starting point guard, missed his 14th straight game because of suspension or injury. Then, about five minutes before the game, the club discovered that Chris Whitney, who has been brilliant at point in Strickland's absence, would miss the game with a left ankle sprain severe enough that he has already been ruled out of the next two games. He had played in 131 straight games.

Then, with less than two minutes to go, Richard Hamilton, who played admirably at point, contributing 20 points and six assists, fouled out, leaving Felipe Lopez to initiate the offense.

Said Richard Hamilton: "It [the win] is great. If you look at our locker room and see guys out like Rod and Mitch [Richmond] and Whit, that says a lot about our character and that we haven't really given up. We compete against the starting five in practice, and [last night] was the night when all of that hard work and practice finally showed up."

"I tell you guys [reporters] many times, you can't worry about who you don't have, you can't allow yourself to make excuses for things that maybe aren't perfect," Leonard Hamilton said. "You just have to have the mind-set, and you have to find a way. We don't make excuses. They were just as determined to win as they would have been had we had all our players."

Indeed, though they gave back an eight-point lead with less than three minutes to play, the Wizards stayed resourceful and played tough defense, allowing only two threes in the second half, after giving up seven in the first.

Wesley's three-pointer with 39.4 seconds left drew the Hornets within two. After Lopez was called for an offensive foul, knocking Davis to the floor on the perimeter with 26.6 seconds remaining, Charlotte's Jamal Mashburn drove to the basket and tied the score with 14.4 seconds left, setting the stage for Howard's heroics.

"We just hope that this is the kind of win that can get our guys even more motivated to continue to improve," Leonard Hamilton said.

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