- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2000

As the clock ticked down to 0:00, Washington Wizards interim coach Darrell Walker swung around 180 degrees and pointed toward the box of owner Abe Pollin, who was joined by minority owner Michael Jordan.

But the guys who were responsible for Walker's first victory, an improbable 103-93 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, were behind him. Walker got the victory because guys like Juwan Howard came up big. They made key steals (eight). They shot the ball well. Most importantly, they didn't let Kevin Garnett who had just been named the NBA's player of the month kill them.

Garnett finished with 22 points, but Howard prevented him from getting into a rhythm. Garnett had to score 10 points in the fourth quarter to make his game look respectable.

"It was a great team effort, but I really tip my hat to Juwan Howard," Walker said. "I think Juwan's defense on Kevin was the key. We didn't have to double as much as we usually do on the Big Ticket, which is what I call Kevin Garnett.

"Juwan has been through a lot of stuff in this organization. He's a class guy, and he stepped up. And we're going to need him to step up 80 percent of the time the rest of this season. Those were two good forwards out there tonight. You know how good Kevin is, and tonight Juwan played just like the All-Star he was a couple of years ago."

When the Wizards (15-31) showed up for yesterday's shootaround, Walker told Howard he was going to have to defend Garnett most of the night without any help from his teammates something now akin to the kiss of death in the NBA. But Walker said Howard took the tough defensive assignment in stride.

"It starts with guarding Kevin Garnett because it starts with him," said Howard, who scored 14 points and grabbed a season-high 13 rebounds. "He's the guy who gets a lot of touches. He's the guy who shoots a lot of baskets and averages a lot of points. So we knew if we stopped him or contained him, we'd have a good chance to win this ballgame. That was the key right there, and I knew the job was all on me. I had to come out and disrupt him and stop him from scoring. It started right there and I think my teammates fed off it.

That they did. All five of the Wizards starters finished in double figures, and Aaron Williams came off the bench to add 12 points. Mitch Richmond, making his first start after missing seven games with a fractured rib, led with 19 points.

"We've got to keep playing with the energy we have," Richmond said. "There was an energy out there. I felt it even in the game in Cleveland, which I didn't play in. The guys played pretty hard in that one. Hopefully, we can carry this over."

Minnesota, which had won seven of its previous eight games, got 21 points from point guard Bobby Jackson. Jackson started for Terrell Brandon, who missed last night's game with a sprained left ankle.

The Wizards took an 83-69 lead with 10:37 left in the third quarter on an extremely uncharacteristic play. Following a jumper by Richard Hamilton, Howard took in a pass just beyond midcourt and, going from right to left, dunked with power and authority over the flailing Garnett.

This produced a standing ovation and, more importantly, it capped a 15-5 Washington run that put Minnesota in its deepest hole of the game. But the Timberwolves responded with 12-2 run later in the game that pulled them within 90-87 with 4:30 left to play.

The Wizards put the game away at the end by capitalizing on Minnesota mistakes and good defense.

With Washington up by five points, Richmond stole a poor pass by Garnett and cruised in for an easy layup with 1:06 left. After a Timberwolves timeout, Howard stole a pass from Malik Sealy and scored uncontested at the other end. A 3-pointer by Richmond with 34.7 seconds left put the Wizards up 101-91 and killed any chance of a Minnesota comeback.

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