Like Magic, Wizards' misery disappears in 106-105 victory

Team gains in playoff race, withstands McGrady's 43

Pro Basketball

March 12, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - With some bad losses and a few days of turmoil in the past week, the Washington Wizards seemed in need of a couple of hours on a psychiatrist's couch, albeit a big one.

All they really needed, actually, to get over a cranky spell was a good win over a good team. And, just as the doctor ordered, they got a 106-105 victory over the Orlando Magic last night at MCI Center.

The Wizards survived nearly every pitfall that could be drawn up for a team, such as 43 points from Tracy McGrady - including two three-pointers in the final five seconds - a 33-0 deficit from three-point range and a career-high nine turnovers from Michael Jordan.

But, in getting back into the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Wizards (31-33) used crisp ball movement, timely defense and clutch free-throw shooting to end a two-game losing streak and perhaps ease a climate of chaos.

"We've had some good wins, but this one felt especially good, with everything that's been said over the last couple of days and with what's been going on," said guard Jerry Stackhouse. "We've been struggling, and I always say that winning is a cure-all. ... Hopefully, we can keep it going."

Stackhouse, who had publicly complained after Sunday's loss in New York that he wasn't getting the ball enough, was brilliant last night, hitting eight of 16 shots from the field and all 15 of his free-throw attempts, including six in the final 20 seconds to ice the win, for a team-high 31 points.

"I know Jerry well enough," said coach Doug Collins. "My concern is that he gets too fired up. And if he gets too fired up, then he tries to go too fast and then mistakes happen and then some bad shots occur. The only thing I kept saying to him was, `Take your time. You don't have to do anything in a hurry.' "

Stackhouse, who had eight assists and five rebounds, didn't have to take on the Magic (33-32) alone. Jordan scored 23 points and Larry Hughes had 20 points and nine assists.

For one of the few times all season, the Wizards moved the ball around the perimeter and interior, finding the open man at critical junctures, to pile up a 20-point advantage on scores in the paint. They also outscored Orlando by 18 from the foul line.

"[Good ball movement] wasn't even really what we focused on," said Hughes, whose assist total was a career high. "I think we just got together. A couple of people starting doing it, and it caught on."

Washington, which weathered another remarkable performance by McGrady, the league's leading scorer and a prime Most Valuable Player candidate, played well in the wake of Jordan's post-game comments Sunday in which he accused many of his teammates of failing to match his intensity late in the game.

"Tonight, we bounced back from that and we played well," Jordan said. "Hopefully, we continue to play well. If my conversation or criticism from the other night had anything to do with it, so be it. The end result is playing good basketball and getting to the playoffs."

The Wizards got a bit closer to that goal, as they drew a game closer to the Milwaukee Bucks, who hold the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot, but lost to the San Antonio Spurs last night.

Washington trails the Bucks (32-32) by one game, but must beat them outright because Milwaukee has a tiebreaker edge by virtue of winning the season series over the Wizards.

Next for Wizards

Opponent: Detroit Pistons

Site: The Palace of Auburn Hills (Mich.)

When: Friday. 8 p.m.

TV/Radio: CN8, Ch. 50/WTEM (980 AM)

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