Lowly Nuggets sink Wizards, 88-72

Loss pushes Washington out of final playoff spot

March 31, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

DENVER - When it comes to affecting the Eastern Conference playoff race, it seems the Denver Nuggets, the team with the NBA's second-worst record, giveth and then taketh away.

The Nuggets gave the Washington Wizards a huge break on Wednesday with a surprise win over the Milwaukee Bucks, which vaulted the Wizards into eighth place in the Eastern Conference, and into playoff position.

The Bucks are now a half-game ahead of the Wizards.

The Nuggets dealt Washington's postseason hopes a serious blow with an 88-72 win that knocked the Wizards back out of the eighth slot, as the Bucks beat Miami, 109-87.

The Wizards (34-39) shot 17 percent in the third quarter, hitting just four of 24 shots, with all four coming from three feet or closer. Washington's perimeter shooters went scoreless for the entire period, and had only one shot from five feet or longer for the entire half.

The Nuggets also clubbed them on the boards in the third, with a 19-9 overall advantage, including 7-4 on the offensive glass.

In the fourth period, the poor performance continued, as the Nuggets (17-57) broke the game open with an 18-5 run that turned a seven-point lead at the end of three quarters into a 20-point blowout that sent Michael Jordan to the bench with three minutes left in his final Denver appearance.

"We just hit the wall," Washington coach Doug Collins said. "We had no energy at all from midway through the second quarter. They just piled right over on top of us. They got to every loose ball. We went dead in the water and we had nothing left."

The Nuggets presented Jordan with a brand-new motorcycle before the game, his 13th and final one in Denver.

Given the fact that he shot 5-for-19 over the final three quarters, finishing with 19 points, Jordan, who returned from knee surgery last season here, probably won't want to come back anytime soon.

"Obviously, we wanted to win," Jordan said. "The Nuggets were motivated to play hard and we never matched their intensity. Denver is not that bad. They beat Boston and Milwaukee. Jerry missed two layups, I missed some shots, everybody was a little tired and we missed some assignments on defense."

Jerry Stackhouse had 15 for Washington, the only other Wizard to score in double figures, as Washington was outscored 52-28 in the second half.

"We should have buried this team in the first half, and we didn't," said Stackhouse, who was 1-for-10 in the second half. "And that's why they came back and beat us. On top of that, we were tired. I missed a ton of opportunities that I normally hit."

The loss closed a critical six-game, 10-day Western trip with Washington notching a 2-4 mark, with a 26-point loss to Phoenix the bookend to last night's setback, hardly the desired result in a playoff chase.

"We finished the road trip the way we started, a blowout," forward Bryon Russell said.

"It was the end of the trip," Stackhouse. "It's the end of the trip, and it's kind of sad to say, but we had one foot on the plane and one of them in the arena tonight. This is a game that we're going to look back and wish we had."

Six Denver players scored in double figures, led by point guard Shammond Williams, who had 15 points, including eight in the decisive fourth-quarter run.

NOTE: After the game, longtime Wizards equipment manager Charlie Butler, a Baltimore native, collapsed in the Washington locker room. A Denver team official said Butler, who had had the flu, had reported that he was feeling light-headed and dehydrated. Butler was later wheeled out of the Pepsi Center on a stretcher wearing a breathing mask. He was taken to Swedish Medical Center in Denver where he spent the night under observation.

Next for Wizards

Opponent: Sacramento Kings

Site: MCI Center, Washington

When: Wednesday, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet, ESPN/WTEM (980 AM)

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