Wizards shut door on season right way

Beating Knicks, 116-112, ends year on high note

Pro Basketball

April 17, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - All the Washington Wizards wanted to do last night was to get out of their season finale with the Atlantic Division, cellar-dwelling New York Knicks with a comfortable win and a good feeling heading into the summer.

However, 10 New York three-pointers and some spotty Washington defense combined to make what should have been a laugher a 116-112 nail-biter, won by the Wizards.

The Wizards (37-45) nearly surrendered an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter as the Knicks went on an 11-4 run in the closing minutes to add a little heat to the already warm spring evening.

Ultimately, however, Washington played just enough defense to hold off New York for the win, which finished off a 19-game improvement from last season's dismal 19-63 mark.

"That would have been a terrible taste if we had kicked that game away [last night]," said Washington coach Doug Collins. "That would have been a terrible, terrible taste if we had not been able to finish that game off."

"It was great. Everybody just dug in inside themselves and gave it all they had. It was one thing that we wanted to do was finish the season off on a good note, and that was to win this game," said Bobby Simmons, who continued his late-season growth spurt with 15 points off the bench.

Latrell Sprewell hit a three-pointer with 2:18 to go, then dunked with 1:31 left for five of his game-high 26 points to pull the Knicks (30-51) to within 109-105.

But the Wizards, who have been rather lax defensively in the final month, got a key stop in the final minute when rookie Kwame Brown blocked Kurt Thomas' shot in the lane with 55 seconds to go.

Washington's Tyrone Nesby ran down the loose ball and fired it off Allan Houston out of bounds to give Washington possession.

"It was a big block," said Brown, who had 10 points and 11 rebounds. "I was just happy to help my teammate. Coach talks a lot about help the helper, so I helped my teammate out and someone got in and boxed out my man."

The game had much of the feel of school on the last day before summer vacation: Some things might actually have been accomplished, but there wasn't a lot of attention to detail.

To wit, the Wizards, who played without Richard Hamilton, who missed the game with a sore groin muscle, held a second-quarter lead of 15 points and an 18-point advantage in the third period, only to have New York trim the deficit to four points in each period.

"We gave up 112 points," said Collins. "I know the game was free-wheeling and you take that into consideration, but you've got to be able to stop people and stopping the clock, and those areas, starting day one in camp next season that we have to be better at. "

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