Alexander's 32 mend Wizards

Seven-game losing streak ends in Washington's win over Magic in OT, 107-102

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March 04, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Washington Wizards were deemed not worthy for prime-time television when Michael Jordan went on the injured list with a knee injury, which just shows you how much network suits know about basketball.

Thanks to NBC's decision, no one outside the MCI Center saw the taut overtime thriller the Wizards and Orlando Magic staged last night, but those in the building bore witness to a game filled with all the drama of an episode of ER.

In the end, the announced sellout crowd saw the Wizards hold on for a 107-102 victory that not only broke a seven-game Washington losing streak, but perhaps also established Courtney Alexander as a legitimate scoring threat.

Alexander, pressed into the starting lineup in the absence of Richard Hamilton, who missed the game because of lingering effects of a stomach virus, scored a game-high 32 points.

"It meant a lot," said Alexander, who also had seven rebounds and four assists. "It was a game that we desperately needed. With Michael and Rip [Hamilton] out, we were short-handed. A lot of people wrote this team off, but one thing I can say about this team is we've been resilient. We haven't given in to the pressure, to the adversity that we've faced."

Said Washington coach Doug Collins: "[This was the] biggest win of the season, by far. We're sliding, we've got guys hurt. I told the coaches, this game renews hope. We've got Chicago coming in here Tuesday, and we've got to get that one. If we get these three games here on this homestand, we're back to .500, and that was our whole goal coming in."

Alexander not only kept the Wizards (28-30) in the game with his offense, but he and Tyrone Nesby also played defense on Orlando's Tracy McGrady, who started slowly but finished with 30 points.

McGrady missed his first 10 shots but found the rhythm in the third quarter, connecting for 15 points in the final seven minutes of the period. In the fourth, McGrady hit for nine of Orlando's final 17 points.

"We just wanted to make it hard for him," Collins said. "What we didn't want to do was run down there and double-team him and have him kick it out to the open shooters, where they're shooting wide-open threes because they space you out so much. The three is such a big part of their game.

"He's such an unstoppable player, so we made him work hard, and in the end, we were able to make them miss when we had to."

McGrady missed three free throws in the overtime, while Washington displayed a fierce resolve to win its first game in five tries this season without Jordan.

"We have a lot of guys in this locker room who can play the game of basketball," said Chris Whitney, who had 20 points, including two free throws with 9.1 seconds to go to ice the win. "Coming out, when we're very short-handed, a lot of guys stepped up and played big minutes. It just goes to show you. We always believed we had a good team. That was exemplified."

That Alexander was the player to bail out the Wizards over the Magic (31-28) was surprising considering that Collins has bemoaned the chances the 6-foot-5 swing player has previously blown when Hamilton and Jordan have been out.

Alexander, averaging just 5.4 points and 1.9 rebounds coming in, was so under-used that he hadn't played in three of the Wizards previous five games, and was so unknown that McGrady mistook him for Cory Alexander, a former Magic player.

"He started the season as a starter," Collins said. "It's called being ready and taking advantage of your opportunity. What you see is Courtney's a guy who can score points. Somehow, we have to be able to, when Rip and Michael come back, implement that into what we're doing.

"I don't want this to be a one-shot deal. I want him to grow from this, I want him to feel good about this. I've had numerous discussions all season long about these kinds of opportunities being there for him. [Last night] he snatched it and he was tremendous. He's never been in my doghouse. I don't put guys in doghouses."

Said Alexander: "I don't look at it as pressure. I look at it as opportunity that I should take advantage of. It has been a difficult season for me. It's been an up-and-down season for me for a lot of reasons, but God gave me another opportunity and I tried to take advantage of it."

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