Wizards let down, come back for win

Mid-game collapse lets Suns' hopes rise, but rally produces 105-100 victory

January 31, 2004|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - It's not often an NBA team will apologize for a win, and particularly not the Washington Wizards, for whom victories this season have been at a premium.

But after the Wizards slunk off the MCI Center court with a 105-100 win last night over the Phoenix Suns, a few mea culpas were clearly in order for one of the more ragged efforts of the year against one of the league's worst teams.

The Wizards (14-31) were poised to run the Suns, the worst team in the Western Conference, right out of the arena, leading by 11 after the first period - forcing nine Phoenix turnovers in the process.

But over the next 30 minutes, the Wizards not only let the Suns (17-31) back in the game, but also fell behind 86-71 a third of the way through the fourth quarter.

"It seems like we just play hard when we're down," said Washington coach Eddie Jordan. "I don't know if that's a sign of youth or not having confidence or a sign of panic. You could use all of them, but we just haven't learned ... to control the game or carry the game and manage the game the right way as players. I'm trying to do it as coach."

Larry Hughes led a furious comeback with 12 of his team-high 23 points, including one of his two fourth-period three-pointers that cut Washington's deficit to 86-83 with 5:29 to go.

"We were playing bad basketball," Hughes said. "Once we got back to controlling the ball and becoming sure of our passes, making them work on the offensive and defensive sides, we were back in it."

Steve Blake then hit a three 18 seconds later to tie the score, and after Brendan Haywood hit a baseline turnaround with 3:21 to go, then a slam-dunk follow with 2:14 left, the Wizards would never trail.

Jordan particularly singled out Haywood, the third-year center who has shuttled in and out of the coach's doghouse through the season.

Last night, the 7-footer had seven of his nine points, as well as seven of his 13 rebounds, in the fourth period.

"It [the comeback] took a lot of effort," Haywood said. "Everybody realized that we were letting a great opportunity slip away. We were up on them the whole first half and then we came out in the second half without any energy and they took it to us.

"We realized that this was a game that we really needed to have. We really couldn't let this one slip away. This would have really been bad for us to let it get away."

And yet, the Wizards, who have beaten Indiana, the league's second-best team, and lost to Orlando, the team with the NBA's worst record, in this seven-game homestand, nearly did just that.

In one remarkably bad 30-minute stretch, the Wizards made 17 field goals and committed 19 turnovers. The Suns outscored Washington 22-4 in fast-break points during that stretch.

"We need to get that out of the way," Washington guard Juan Dixon said. "It's bad. Winning teams don't get behind all the time and play catch-up. Hopefully, we can start having the lead ourselves and try to maintain it."

The Wizards played perhaps their worst quarter of the season in the third, when the Suns came out of the locker room with an 18-2 spurt to take a 13-point lead. Leading by seven going into the fourth, Phoenix opened the period with an 8-0 run.

But Jordan was cajoled into putting the Wizards into a zone defense that prevented easy baskets inside for Phoenix, forcing the Suns to shoot from outside.

"I'm used to it [the come-from-behind play]," Jordan said. "You just have to keep your poise when you're down. You're hearing your fans being very disappointed and you just have to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to it and just say, `Let's keep going.' "

Next for Wizards

Opponent: Cleveland Cavaliers

Site: MCI Center, Washington

When: Tomorrow, noon

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

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