Free-falling Wizards lose to Bulls, 90-81

Washington's skid hits 7 despite Hamilton's 30

Pro Basketball

March 02, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

CHICAGO - With Michael Jordan out of the lineup, the Washington Wizards' aspirations these days are modest, as they hope to merely tread water until Jordan can return from a knee injury.

But the Wizards are having great problems just meeting the mere expectations, as evidenced by last night's 90-81 loss to the hapless Chicago Bulls at the United Center, Washington's seventh straight setback and the eighth loss in their past nine games.

The Wizards (27-30), who played dispiritedly for most of the first three quarters, staged a compelling fourth-quarter run, shaving a 12-point deficit down to one, on two Richard Hamilton free throws with 2:04 to play.

But Chicago's Travis Best, recently acquired with Jalen Rose from the Indiana Pacers, hit two jumpers on successive possessions to take the Bulls lead back out to five, at 84-79.

"We fought back," said Washington coach Doug Collins, who got a game-high 30 points from Hamilton. "Those are the kinds of games you can steal. The Bulls were in control the whole way and with a couple of big shots, you steal that. But the Bulls made them. Travis Best hit a couple of big jumpers. He's a guy who played fourth quarters when the Indiana Pacers went to the Finals, so he's used to that."

The Bulls (16-42), who possess the league's second-worst record, controlled the tempo, weathering an immediate Washington burst to start the game, then going on their own 15-0 run between the first and second quarters, rocking the reeling Wizards back on their heels.

"We got close at the end, but it was just too little, too late," said rookie forward Etan Thomas.

The Bulls spent a good part of the night attacking the basket, thanks in no small part to the absence of Wizards centers Jahidi White (shoulder ailment) and Brendan Haywood (knee strain).

Rookie center Eddy Curry, one of two high school phenoms taken by Chicago in last June's draft, had 19 points and a game-high 14 rebounds, and thoroughly outplayed Washington's high school draftee, Kwame Brown, taken first, three places ahead of Curry.

"You can't make it personal. You want to demand respect," said Brown, who had three points and three rebounds after early foul trouble. "He wants to show the Wizards that he should have been the No. 1 pick and I want to show why I am the No. 1 pick, so obviously I wanted to get touches and I wanted to get going, but unfortunately I got three quick fouls."

The Wizards got a big spiritual lift from Hamilton, despite his battling the stomach flu. Hamilton told Collins he wasn't sure that he could play, and Hubert Davis was announced as the starter at shooting guard.

But Hamilton played a team-high 40 minutes, and provided virtually all of Washington's aggression on the offensive end, taking 13 of the Wizards' 23 foul shots on the evening.

"At the time, before the game, I felt like we needed a win so bad, so I tried to play right through it," said Hamilton.

Said Collins: "He fought through it, and I was proud of him."

Nonetheless, the Wizards continued their free fall, and someone will have to step in soon to catch them before they hit rock bottom.

"We're starting to look around a little bit and wondering where we're going to get help from, but the help is right here in the room and we need to come together if we want to get this done," forward Popeye Jones said.

Next for Wizards

Opponent: Orlando Magic

Site: MCI Center, Washington

When: Tomorrow, 6 p.m.

Radio: WTEM (980 AM)

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