Wizards get cut down by Nets, 86-78

Up by 11 in 2nd quarter, interior defense falters

Pro Basketball

January 30, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - There was a time when you could choke off the New Jersey Nets for about three quarters and coast home to a victory, but that time has passed, as the Washington Wizards discovered last night at Continental Airlines Arena.

The Wizards followed their gameplan - keep the mistakes to a minimum and keep the Nets from running - to near perfection for most of three quarters, rolling to an 11-point, second-quarter lead.

But Washington left just enough of an opening, especially in the third quarter, and the Nets barreled through en route to an 86-78 victory.

The Wizards (22-24) slowed the run-happy Nets to a virtual crawl for the first half and a chunk of the third quarter, as New Jersey point guard Jason Kidd missed most of the second half with a strained right groin.

With their running game slowed, the Nets (31-14) took advantage of the Wizards" porous interior defense, outscoring them 42-26 in the paint and closing the third quarter on a 17-6 run to take a six-point lead into the fourth quarter.

And there was more of the same in the final quarter, as the Nets extended the lead to 13 with 7:20 to go on a dunk from Aaron Williams.

The Wizards made a last desperate push, slicing the lead to five with 4:02 left, behind nine of Jerry Stackhouse's game-high 27 points.

But Nets forward Richard Jefferson sank one of two free throws with 2:39 left, and back-up point guard Anthony Johnson made two foul shots 20 seconds later to push the advantage back out to a more comfortable eight points.

Jefferson, in his second season out of Arizona, pumped in 24 points for the Nets, who returned home after a four game Western swing. Kenyon Martin added 19 points.

Michael Jordan, in his final game in New Jersey, scored just eight points on 4-for-16 shooting from the field.

Though the Wizards had been playing in spurts of late, drop ping three of their past four, New Jersey coach Byron Scott saw a marked improvement from their previous meeting, when the Wizards scored a franchise-low in points in a 79-65 loss in December.

"I see them growing." said Scott. "The last time we played them, in watching tapes, they were breaking off plays. They were going on their own. They seemed to be a little selfish and unassured of themselves or their identity as a basketball team.

"But in the last couple games that I've watched, they seem to really be running through their offense. They understand who their go-to guys are, and everybody else is just playing their roles. They're a lot better than the last time we played them."

Meanwhile, Washington coach Doug Collins was looking to avoid repeating a pattern that had generally developed over the past two seasons, where New Jersey's younger and more athletic players would run the Wizards out of the arena on transition.

Collins said the Nets outscored Washington 99-4 in fast- break points in the three New Jersey wins last season, with a 41-17 advantage in the two Nets' wins this year.

"When you play this team, the minute the ball gets in Jason Kidd's hands, it's a track meet." said Collins. "And that's why you have to get back. You have to have three people back, but you have to get two guys to the boards, because you can't let Kenyon Martin run out either. You have to try to handle the defensive boards."

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