- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2000

KNICKS 89, WIZARDS 82

Say what you will about Rod Strickland, but when he has something on his mind like his benching before the Washington Wizards' fifth loss in a row last night at MCI Center he does not hold back. And it was no different after the Wizards' 89-82 defeat against the New York Knicks before 20,674 at MCI Center.

Benched by someone in the Wizards organization only Strickland would give a remotely clear guess because he missed practice Tuesday, the veteran point guard played just 18 minutes. Afterward, he ripped into what he felt was unjust treatment by the 5-24 Wizards.

In fact, Strickland sounded like he wants out right now.

Asked if the situation is becoming unbearable, Strickland replied, "Without a doubt, no question about it. What happened tonight I didn't deserve. Tonight, this is just somebody trying to put me on "Front Street." That wasn't right; that wasn't called for. They can break it down anyway they want to."

Strickland finished with just five points and one assist as the Wizards lost for the 14th time in 15 games. But the bigger issue is that no one in the front office would say who was responsible for Strickland's benching, or whether it would carry over into tomorrow's game at Miami.

"You'll have to ask management," coach Leonard Hamilton said.

Said general manager Wes Unseld: "It was Rod Strickland's fault. But I'm not going to get in any 'he said, she said' with him. Rod had problems making practice yesterday and he didn't start today. That's all there is to it."

President of basketball operations Michael Jordan did not return phone calls placed late last night. However, Jordan has said Hamilton has complete autonomy in making decisions regarding the team. Either way, Strickland felt that the punishment he also was fined $2,500 did not fit the crime.

"I know I missed a practice I overslept or whatever," he said. "But I've tried to do whatever they've asked me to do, but for them to do that is a bit much. I've been trying to do what they asked me to do all year long."

The Wizards have said Strickland, who has a history of missing practices, has been on his best behavior this season, which made the benching even more of a surprise. He made this clear when asked if he thought the Wizards were trying to make an example out of him.

"Definitely, without a doubt," Strickland said. "It's like not being able to get past your past. Everybody says things about what you've done before, and that it's cool, and we're going by what you've done this year. But you can't get past that."

Other than that, it was pretty much a typical Wizards vs. Knicks game. The Knicks have won three of the last four meetings between the teams and have now beaten the Wizards 16 of the last 21 times they have played at MCI Center.

The loss gave the Wizards the worst start in franchise history this deep into the season. The 1966-67 Baltimore Bullets started 6-23. New York's Latrell Sprewell scored a game-high 25 points to lead the Knicks, and Allan Houston added 23.

The Wizards made just 23 of 64 shots (37.7 percent) from the field, while New York connected on 31 of 68 (45.6 percent). The Wizards poor shooting from the floor, along with 23 turnovers, rendered completely meaningless their 82.1 percent (32-for-39) shooting from the foul line.

Four Wizards, led by Juwan Howard's 20 points, reached double figures. However, the Wizards scored just 39 points in the second half.

Chris Whitney, who replaced Strickland in the lineup, finished with 15 points and five assists.

New York played without stating center Marcus Camby (groin) and guard Charlie Ward (right knee), but the Knicks didn't need them.

Washington reserve guard and third-leading scorer Richard Hamilton was making his first return to action since he strained his left Achilles' tendon last week against Vancouver. Hamilton was ineffective early on, picking up his first two fouls within 19 seconds.

Wizards center Jahidi White missed his third game in a row due to his mildly sprained left knee but is expected to return for tomorrow's game against Miami.

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