Wizards defeat Blazers, inch closer to No. 8 spot

95-91 win over Portland places Washington just a half game behind Bucks

Pro Basketball

March 26, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

PORTLAND, Ore. - The Washington Wizards needed something, anything, to jump-start their Eastern Conference playoff hopes, and the Rose Garden was likely the wrong place to find it. The Wizards had dropped their past three games here, as part of an eight-game overall skid against the Portland Trail Blazers.

But the Wizards found the tonic with a lineup change that brought vitality both on the interior and on the perimeter in a gut-it-out 95-91 victory over the Blazers last night.

Washington coach Doug Collins inserted point guard Tyronn Lue and center Jahidi White into the starting lineup at the last minute, and both moves paid handsome dividends for the Wizards (33-37), who ended a three-game losing streak.

Lue had 21 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, to pace the Washington offense, while White had five rebounds and four blocked shots, giving the Wizards a badly needed front-line presence.

"We always worry about the guys feeling, `Well, I was demoted and maybe they're thinking because we lost, it was us,' " Collins said. "I made a point of talking to everyone [yesterday] morning and telling them why I made the change.

"When we were playing our best basketball, T-Lue was leading us before he got hurt. He made big shots."

The Wizards' win not only was their first in three tries on a six-game West Coast trip, but it also helped them gain a full game on the Milwaukee Bucks in the battle for the eighth and final Eastern playoff spot. The Bucks lost to the San Antonio Spurs, 107-94, last night. The Wizards now trail Milwaukee by a half game with 12 games to play, but the Bucks hold the tiebreaker edge.

Lue, who has struggled to come back from a shoulder injury, made three big shots in the final five minutes, but none bigger than a tough, off-balance runner in the lane with 1:07 to play and three seconds left on the shot clock, which gave Washington a 90-85 lead.

"I just wanted to go out and play aggressive," said Lue.

"Coach told me to go out and play my game. I've been trying to battle through my shoulder injury. It's been rough, but he gave me a chance to start and play against [Damon] Stoudamire. I just wanted to take advantage of it and play aggressive, and that's what I did."

Meanwhile, White, who was activated on Feb. 26 after being out all season recuperating from a knee ailment, got the start in only his seventh game back to provide bulk in the middle.

White made his presence felt early by setting picks, clogging the middle and moving the bigger Blazers out of the paint.

"I'm enjoying being out there," White said. "I haven't been out there for 65-plus games, so it's exciting to be out there. Hopefully, I can help in this playoff race."

Said Jerry Stackhouse: "Jahidi set the tone for us. Because they're such a big team, he didn't let them come out and bang us around. We had a presence on the inside, and that set the tone for the whole game."

Michael Jordan scored 25 and Stackhouse notched 24 points for the Wizards, who fended off Portland (44-26), which made a run in the fourth quarter to close an 11-point deficit to two as late as the 3:57 mark.

But the Blazers couldn't finish the task, no doubt harmed by missing six of 14 free throws in the final quarter, handing the Wizards their first road win since Feb. 25.

NOTE: A man walked out onto the Rose Garden floor with 1.2 seconds left in the third quarter holding a sign saying, "No War." The protester walked calmly across the floor to a chorus of boos and went limp when arena security caught him. The protester was carried off the floor by three security men to the cheers of the crowd.

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