INDIANAPOLIS - The Washington Wizards tried desperately to give away last night's contest against the Indiana Pacers in the fourth quarter, as they've done all season.
The Wizards missed foul shots, left the Pacers open on the perimeter, gave them offensive rebounds, and went without a field goal over the final 2:28 - usually the building blocks for a heartbreaking loss.
But in sustaining big hits to their foundation, figuratively and literally, the Wizards held on to beat Indiana, 83-78, their first win in nine tries at Conseco Fieldhouse and their first in Indianapolis overall in their past 13 games.
In a contest where their leading scorer, Jerry Stackhouse, shot just 3-for-14, and Michael Jordan took a knee to the right quadriceps, the Wizards (27-29) held on by keeping their calm after blowing a 10-point fourth-quarter lead.
"It was big for us, mentally more than anything," said point guard Tyronn Lue. "We had a couple of big leads at home, against Minnesota and Dallas, and we blew the leads, so to come here on the road and sustain the lead and withstand the run and hold off a good team is definitely big for us. It was big to come here and maintain our composure and get the win."
Jordan, who had a team-high 25 points, said that the injury wasn't serious. He sustained it on a drive with 1:10 to play, when Reggie Miller's knee banged into his leg. Jordan hobbled for a bit and missed one of two free throws after the foul, but he was able to finish the game and said he expects to play tomorrow against the Houston Rockets at MCI Center.
And while Jordan was the obvious force, Lue, who had 18 points and a career-high 11 assists, was the Wizards' catalyst, running the offense for 45 minutes without a turnover.
And Lue's precision rubbed off on the rest of the Washington roster. The Wizards tied an NBA record by committing only three turnovers.
"I just tried to get us into our offense, and we were fortunate that we kept hitting shots, especially in the first half," Lue said. "I thought we ran our offense well."
The Wizards did run their offense well through the first three quarters, leading 68-58 with 11:20 to go, before the Pacers (37-20) went on an 16-5 run, capped by Miller's three-pointer with 2:50 left that gave Indiana its first lead of the second half, 74-73.
But Christian Laettner immediately responded with an 18-footer from the top of the key, and the Wizards never looked back. They were particularly impressive on the defensive end late on Jermaine O'Neal, who was flustered for most of the night by center Brendan Haywood.
The inconsistent Haywood played his best game in weeks, with 10 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots.
"In the fourth quarter, we had to step up and improve our play," Haywood said. "We felt we played good for three quarters, but, in the fourth quarter, we had to step it up on the defensive end, because in this league, you win it defensively, not offensively."
Said Washington coach Doug Collins: "I told our guys, `If we're going to be a playoff team and win in the fourth quarter, we have to defend. We have to play defense. [Indiana coach] Isiah [Thomas] didn't have his point guard [Jamaal Tinsley, who missed the game for family reasons], so we tried to roam off them as much as possible and pack it in and force them to try to make some shots against us."
NOTE: The Wizards' already precarious frontcourt situation got even more tenuous as Collins announced that reserve forward Etan Thomas will miss at least two weeks with a fractured orbital bone, which protects the eye.
Thomas, who has averaged 4.8 points and 4.3 rebounds in 38 games this season, was struck by an inadvertent elbow from New Jersey's Richard Jefferson in the first half of Friday's game and left the contest.
Collins said Thomas, a 6-foot-9 player in his third NBA season, has been suffering from double vision since the injury. Thomas' condition will be reevaluated by team doctors next week, Collins said, and if the double vision is gone, he will miss two weeks. If not, he will need surgery and will likely miss the rest of the season.
Collins said Thomas' roster spot will be filled for tomorrow's game against Houston by center Jahidi White, who has been on the injured list all season while rehabilitating his left knee after a preseason injury. As recently as Sunday, Collins said White would not likely play this year.
"I don't know how effective he's going to be," said Collins. "We'll have to see. I know Jahidi wants to play. We'll have to see how effective he can be."
Next for Wizards
Site:MCI Center, Washington
When:Tomorrow, 7 p.m.
TV/Radio:CN8, Ch. 50/WTEM (980 AM)