Bumps in road trip, but Wizards on target

Bryant, Lakers do number on them, but win tonight means 3-3 mark on trip

Friday night's game

Pro Basketball

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

LOS ANGELES - When the Washington Wizards headed out on their six-game excursion through the Western Conference 10 days ago, there were a few things they knew, or should have known.

One of the things they no doubt knew was that anything less than a split would put them in dire straits to make the Eastern Conference playoffs. A win tonight in the finale in Denver will accomplish a .500 mark for the trip and keep them in eighth place, one-half game ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks.

And considering that Washington has won its past five in Denver - and the Nuggets have the league's second-worst record - the Wizards should know the outcome tonight.

But given the Wizards' propensity for stubbing their toes at the worst times this season, and some residual shellshock from watching Kobe Bryant drop an NBA season-high 55 points on their heads in Friday's 108-94 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, who knows what will happen?

"You can't put that [a win] in our hats" said Jerry Stackhouse. "We have to continue to play. Even though we lost this game, we're doing things well. We lost to the world champions. And Kobe had an unbelievable game and Shaq [O'Neal] had a great game, too. We had some good contributions and some good things happened. Late in the game, we still had a chance. It was an eight- or 10-point game with three minutes left. They just had more than we had."

What the Lakers had in abundance was Bryant's offense. The 6-foot-7 guard broke a 43-year-old Los Angeles record for points in one half with 42. Before he cooled off in the second half and got into foul trouble in the fourth quarter, Bryant looked to be unstoppable, much like the man he is most compared to, Washington's Michael Jordan.

"This is a performance I've never seen before, not even on PlayStation," said O'Neal. "Coach Phil [Jackson] told Kobe to be aggressive and he was real aggressive, especially from the three-point line. Kobe's not really the type to back down, but in every good karate flick, in order for the student to become the man, he has to kill the teacher."

Indeed, the game was set up as not only the last meeting between Jackson and Jordan, who won six NBA titles together with the Chicago Bulls, but the last showdown between the once and presumed future ambassadors of the game.

"There's not much there," said Bryant of the rivalry with Jordan. "It wasn't that big of a deal to me. The challenge I accept is Phil coming to me [Friday] and telling me to be more assertive offensively and that's how I approached it."

Jordan held up his end, with 23 points, but Bryant was otherworldly, hitting nine straight shots and scoring 23 straight points in the first and second periods for the Lakers, missing his career high by one point.

"We tried to double-team him, but he kept shooting it from the perimeter, so there was no chance to double-team him," said Jordan. "We figured, `Here is one guy scoring.' You would imagine we would be down by more than 11 [at halftime]. We thought we needed to get him under control. Once he cooled off, everyone heated up."

Said Stackhouse: "There are guys in this league who can get it going like that. Kobe, Allan Houston, Tracy McGrady, all these players can get it going from long range. And the reason they can get it going from long range is that they're such a threat off the dribble. You have to ward against them beating you off the dribble. The only thing you can do is wait for them to raise up and when they're raising up like that and hitting shots, there's nothing you can do."

Except move on to Denver.

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