Wizards showing knack for painful losses, 99-96

McGrady's 50 lead to second in a row

Pro Basketball

March 09, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

ORLANDO, Fla. - If this recent spate of close, buzzer-beating losses keeps up, the Washington Wizards may be able to provide a real answer to the musical question, "How many times can you mend a broken heart?"

But unlike the Bee Gees, who sang in a vacuum, the Wizards' pain is oh-so-real, as the Orlando Magic provided the latest dagger to their playoff hopes with a 99-96 decision last night.

Even if Orlando's Tracy McGrady hadn't dropped a career-high 50 points on Washington, the Wizards would have rued the fact that they came back from 15 down in the third quarter, took a five-point lead with less than five minutes to go, held the Magic (32-30) to just one offensive rebound in the second half, missed only two of 21 foul shots while Orlando missed 11 of 27 - and still lost.

"We have to go out there and execute the last two minutes of the game," said Washington guard Chris Whitney. "That's where the games are won and lost, whether it's offensively or defensively. Once we do that, we'll be fine. That's what growing up as a team is all about, when you learn to win close games."

The Wizards (29-32) watched a close decision fall through the cracks for a second straight night after battling to make the game competitive. Thursday night, it was Jon Barry's three-pointer at the buzzer that gave Detroit a last-second win in Washington.

Last night, Richard Hamilton had 26 points to lead Washington, but Courtney Alexander, who had a season-high 32 points in Sunday's overtime win over Orlando in Washington, had just 13 last night, and missed a free throw with 33.3 seconds left that would have given the Wizards a one-point lead.

When asked if recent events had made him feel snakebitten, Washington coach Doug Collins said, "Not at all. I think once you start doing that, then you start being a victim, and I'll never let our guys be victims. We've got to learn to just win some of those games.

"We're in new territory now, because Michael was always our crutch at the end of games. We were always able to go to him. What we would get was great respect from the officials, which is critical late in a game."

"Michael," of course, is Jordan, who might have been able to counter some of McGrady's wizardry last night, although it's doubtful anyone not from Krypton could have stopped the precocious 22-year old, who surpassed the previous career-high 49 points he racked up against Washington last April.

"I felt good [last night]," said McGrady, who had 28 points by halftime. "I told my boys before I left the house I was getting at least 40. And I came out, [the] shot was feeling good, [the] legs were feeling fresh and I was excited to be home, in front of the home crowd."

McGrady scored Orlando's last seven points and nine of the Magic's last 11, with five coming in the final 1:11. And defensively, he forced Washington's Tyronn Lue, who, at 6 feet, is eight inches shorter than McGrady, to shoot awkwardly over him with two seconds to go, then grabbed the rebound.

McGrady was fouled with eight-tenths of a second left, and made one of two free throws. However, Whitney, the Wizards' best three-point shooter, couldn't hit the final shot, despite having a wide-open look at the basket off Tyrone Nesby's inbound pass.

That's the way things have been going for the Wizards, who, despite losing nine of their last 11, are still in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.

But that won't last long if they don't find a little magic themselves, even without their leader.

"We're not planning on having Michael back," said rookie center Brendan Haywood. "If he comes back, we'd love to have him back. We can't just be sitting around for the day he comes back. We have to go out and play. If we want to make the playoffs, we have to get it done."

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