Wizards struggle past Grizzlies, 88-85

Scolded Washington keeps postseason hopes alive with solid defensive play

Pro Basketball

April 07, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Through the course of any NBA season, a coach performs any number of roles, from psychiatrist to buddy to fire-and-brimstone preacher, in order to get the maximum from his charges.

Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins wore all three hats last night to cajole effort from his team, especially on the defensive end, where things have been lacking for the past week.

Collins' work paid off in the final few seconds of Washington's surprisingly hard-fought 88-85 win over the Memphis Grizzlies before a generously announced sellout crowd of 20,674 at MCI Center.

Collins, who has been harping on the Wizards' lack of defense in their four consecutive losses, got offended by the fact the Grizzlies, who are tied with Golden State for the worst record in the Western Conference, shot 55 percent from the field in the first half and led by one at halftime.

And he wasted no words letting the Wizards (35-42) know it in the dressing room during the break.

"He wasn't rough, but you could tell that what he said, he really meant," guard Chris Whitney said. "There wasn't really a lot said, but what he said took on a lot of weight. The guys just took it on themselves and really went after it on defense."

The Wizards held Memphis to 32 percent shooting from the field in the second half, and 42 percent overall, while making key stops in the final 30 seconds.

"The one thing that I was trying to preach was we've got to play defense, and I think that carried over to the second half," said Collins. "My biggest concern is that so many of these guys have been in this situation in April where the games don't mean anything. But they mean a lot to me. It may not be the win-loss, but it's that we're growing."

With the win, Washington, in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, made up a half-game on idle Indiana and Toronto, who are tied for the eighth and final spot, but with five games to play and a three-game deficit, their odds are admittedly long.

In that vein, Collins is looking for his players to treat this portion of the season as the first part, when Michael Jordan was with them, and things looked promising.

"We might not make the playoffs, and we're not out of it, but our guys have made the hard work this season mean something, and they just didn't take a loss," said Collins. "That would have been the easy thing to do. We could have taken a loss, and we didn't. And that makes me very proud."

It wasn't easy, however. The Wizards, who led by six with 6:47 to go, allowed Memphis to crawl back into the game and force a tie with less than five minutes to go, before ripping off five unanswered points, capped by a free throw and a baseline jumper from Richard Hamilton with 2:10 to go.

But the Grizzlies (20-56) answered back, getting to within one three times in the final 45 seconds. Whitney's foul shots with 13.4 seconds remaining gave Washington a three-point edge, but the Wizards narrowly escaped overtime, as Jason Williams missed two three-point attempts on Memphis' final possession, the last with an open-look with 1.4 seconds to go.

The Wizards got a huge lift from reserve forward Etan Thomas, who did not play at all until the fourth quarter, but played the entire final period, scoring 10 points with four rebounds thrown in for good measure.

"It's not easy [to sit]," Thomas said. "I'm not going to say that it was. I just have to keep my mind in the game and be ready when he [Collins] calls me."

Hamilton and Courtney Alexander had 15 points each for Washington, which ended a four-game losing streak, while Williams had 15 for Memphis.

Next for Wizards

Opponent: New Jersey Nets

Site: Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, N.J.

Time: 7:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: CSN/WTEM (980 AM)

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