T'wolves too strong for Wizards

Billups is catalyst in 108-100 victory

Pro Basketball

January 13, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - For most of the last month, the Washington Wizards proved themselves adept at beating the NBA's bottom feeders, which is an important step forward for a franchise that aspires not to be a bottom feeder anymore.

But the Wizards haven't done quite so well with the NBA's more dominant foes, like the Minnesota Timberwolves, who knocked them off, 108-100, last night at MCI Center.

After Friday's 105-86 road loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Wizards (18-16) got a second straight splash of cold water across the face, as the Timberwolves (27-9) got hot early behind guard Chauncey Billups, who had 19 of his season-high 31 points in the first quarter, and stayed just hot enough to stave off Washington's comeback tries."[Last night] was a great game," said Washington coach Doug Collins. "Minnesota is a terrific team. I told the guys after the game, I have not been more proud of them all season long as I was [last night]."

The Wizards, who saw their seven-game home winning streak end, narrowed a 13-point third-quarter deficit to one late in the period.

But Minnesota, which routed the Los Angeles Lakers, 120-102, the night before, answered every Washington run with a burst of its own.

"We never could get over the hump; they just had so many weapons," said Michael Jordan, who had a game-high 35 points. "When we got close, their weapons got a little bit more potent, and they made some big shots."

Billups, who is nursing the point guard position until starter Terrell Brandon returns from the injured list, was spectacular in the first quarter. He hit seven of 10 shots in the period, including three-pointers on four straight possessions, as he burned Chris Whitney and Tyronn Lue.

And in the fourth quarter, as the Wizards had drawn to within five in the final minute, Billups closed the game with a three-pointer from just in front of the Washington bench with 42.8 seconds to go.

Billups' performance served as an interesting counterpoint to the personal scoring duel between Jordan and Minnesota's Kevin Garnett, who had 31. Garnett, who was frustrated in his turns guarding Jordan, nonetheless was sensational, pulling down six rebounds and handing out seven assists.

"I think it was two guys trying to be aggressive," said Garnett. "I think what you saw was two opponents trying to get an edge, and I am playing in Michael's wonderland. I have definitely been watching him and I know he has the ability to heat up, so I was just trying to be aggressive myself and it was fun."

The Wizards have, for the most part, played solid team defense throughout the season, but their deficiencies come through particularly against good teams, as they have lost all 10 games this season when they've allowed 100 points or more.

Just as significantly, Washington is now 4-9 against teams that are currently in playoff position, a mark that will have to improve if the Wizards hope to continue moving upward.

"Nothing has changed from where I thought we were and where we are right now," said Collins. "These teams [Milwaukee and Minnesota] are better than us. We have to continue to get better. I need to get our team healthy and our younger guys have to continue to get better."

Notes: The Wizards placed second-year guard Courtney Alexander on the five-game injured list for the second time this season, with a left ankle sprain. ... The move clears room for either Christian Laettner or Richard Hamilton to return to the roster. Of the two, Laettner, who was placed on the injured list Dec. 14 with a broken bone in his leg, appears to be closest. Collins said Laettner could be activated to play at Chicago Saturday.

Next for Wizards

Opponent: San Antonio Spurs

Site: MCI Center, Washington

When: Tuesday, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio: CSN, TBS/WTEM (980 AM)

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