Lakers leave Wizards behind

Bryant paces 16-2 run to help L.A. pull away vs. Washington, 101-89

Pro Basketball

March 17, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - A year ago, the Washington Wizards pulled off one of the bigger shockers of the NBA season, halting the Los Angeles Lakers' 19-game winning streak with a seven-point upset of the league leaders before a raucous MCI Center crowd.

The two teams met last night in the same place on the same date a year later to a decidedly different outcome, as the Lakers, on the strength of a punishing 16-2 third-quarter run, blitzed the Wizards, 101-89.

"It definitely feels like it was a long time ago. So many things have changed, and there are so many different faces. It definitely feels like a long time ago," Washington guard Richard Hamilton said with a wistful look.

A sellout crowd of 20,674 saw the Wizards (16-49) survive a first-half drought to stay competitive, and even threaten to hang around long enough to steal another win.

But Kobe Bryant, who led all scorers with 26 points, personally blistered Washington for 15 points in the decisive stretch in the third and fourth quarters, where the reigning champion Lakers (44-21) blew open a surprisingly close game.

In particular, Bryant, in his second game back from an ankle injury, and point guard Derek Fisher, who returned last night to the lineup from a stress fracture to his right foot, got especially active on the defensive end in the third quarter, helping hound Washington into 19 turnovers for the game.

"They [Fisher and Bryant] are the younger players on the team, and when you look at where our deficiencies have been, those guys have younger legs and can be aggressive. It's nice to know that you have two guys who can create some problems out there," Los Angeles forward Rick Fox said.

Shaquille O'Neal, who did not play in the fourth quarter, had 18 points, eight rebounds and five blocks. Three other Lakers scored in double figures.

The Wizards, who have played most of the Western leaders respectably this season, had managed to keep the game close, never falling behind by more than eight and drawing to within two at 58-56 when Hubert Davis hit a three-pointer with 6:45 to go in the third.

But when Washington's Michael Smith was whistled for a questionable foul on a block of a Bryant jumper midway through the third, the Lakers dialed up their defensive intensity, forcing six Washington turnovers in the period and launching the run that would effectively put the game away and turn the fourth quarter into extended garbage time.

"At that point, if we had kept it close going into the fourth quarter, it might have been a lot more interesting. It just didn't work out that way," said Davis, who had nine points.

Said Wizards coach Leonard Hamilton: "That would be disrespectful to them if we allowed that [the Smith foul] to be an excuse. People can look and see that they have lost 21 games and say that maybe they aren't as good as they were last year or whatever. When they want to turn it on, they're a great basketball team. And they do what they have to do to win."

Four Wizards scored in double figures, led by rookie Courtney Alexander, who had 20. Richard Hamilton, who had a Washington season-high 40 points in Wednesday's win over Detroit, was held to 13 points on 5-for-14 shooting.

"They tried to deny me the ball, and they wouldn't let me get the ball in good spots," said Richard Hamilton. "Every time we seemed to get close, they turned up the pressure."

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