Lakers pound Wizards in big game for both

Washington loses half game to Raptors

April 03, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - It's April, and in the NBA, that means it's time for teams to identify pressing needs and meet them for a playoff push.

The Los Angeles Lakers made their once-annual trip to MCI Center last night, needing a win to keep pace with the Sacramento Kings in the race for best record in the league honors, while the Washington Wizards' need was for a win to stay alive in the chase for the last Eastern Conference playoff spot.

The Wizards' need may have been more basic and urgent, but the Lakers had more weapons available to get what they needed, as they pounded Washington, 113-93.

With their big two, Shaquille O'Neal (22 points, 18 rebounds) and Kobe Bryant (14 points, six assists) leading the way, their supporting cast of Derek Fisher and Rick Fox (15 points apiece) and a barrage of three-pointers thrown in for good measure, Los Angeles (53-21) led by as many as 25 in taking out the Wizards (34-40).

"We just couldn't match their firepower," said Washington coach Doug Collins. "They just beat us in every way. That's a vastly superior team to us. I don't think that's a stretch or in any way demeaning to our team. That's a great team, and we're a team that's trying to get better.

"Is this a demoralizing loss? Not hardly. I don't think there's anybody here that thought we were going to beat the Lakers if they wanted to play."

The Lakers, in the first game of a four-game Eastern swing, appeared to want to play right from the start, hitting Washington with a 10-2 run in the opening quarter. The Wizards responded with a 13-0 run, but Los Angeles answered with a 17-2 spurt that effectively made the rest of the game moot.

"In the NBA, that's what it's about, making runs and trying to withstand them," said point guard Chris Whitney. "They made theirs, we made ours and they made another one, and we couldn't get back on track. That was basically the end of the game right there."

A galaxy of notables, including Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter of the newly-minted national champions, the Maryland Terrapins, watched as Washington didn't lose any ground to Indiana (36-37), staying 2 1/2 games back in the race for the eighth and final Eastern playoff slot, as the Pacers dropped a 105-94 decision to Boston.

However, the Wizards, who are in 10th place in the East, fell 1 1/2 games in back of the idle ninth-place Toronto Raptors, and lost a day on the schedule, as there are only eight games to play. Things are getting perilously close to where there may be little left than to watch young players like Kwame Brown, who had a career-high 14 points, develop.

Meanwhile, Michael Jordan, who didn't play in the second half, had a career-low two points in a career-low 12 minutes. Jordan's previous career-low scoring output was six points in a loss to Indiana Dec. 27, while his playing low was 13 minutes in a March 15, 1986 game when he was with the Chicago Bulls against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Collins said he kept Jordan, who has been coming off the bench since returning two weeks ago from knee surgery, out to keep him fresh for tonight's game in Milwaukee. Jordan said he had no problem with the decision.

"I had no pain," said Jordan, who went 1-for-5 from the field. "I felt good. I just wanted to make sure that I don't overdo it and get ready for a tougher battle [tonight]. This game was out of control, and I felt fine."

Wizards tonight

Opponent: Milwaukee Bucks

Site: Kohl Center, Milwaukee

Time: 8

TV/Radio: CSN (Washington area only)/WTEM (980 AM)

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