- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2003

The Washington Wizards act somewhat like a newborn calf when they are on the road, uncertain of just about every step they take. As a result, they have struggled away from home all season.
At MCI Center, however, the Wizards often play with the poise and confidence that still has them in contention for a playoff spot. Last night Washington shook off a slow start and then used its defense to chill the Miami Heat on the way to an 89-82 victory.
The Wizards (32-34) held the Heat to 34 points in the second half and drew even with the Milwaukee Bucks, which lost to the Los Angeles Lakers last night, for the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff berth.
"Our defense was great in the second half," Wizards coach Doug Collins said. "We didn't play very well at the defensive end in the first half, but that was my fault. In the first half, we tried to do something with screen and roll that we're just not comfortable with."
Offensively, Jerry Stackhouse carried the Wizards with 37 points, one shy of his season-high total against Philadelphia on Nov.30. Stackhouse scored 17 in the second half.
For most of the night, Stackhouse played the aggressive style he likes mostly attacking the basket to get to the free throw line, where he was 14-for-15. Over the last three games, he is 39-for-42.
Stackhouse, who last weekend complained about the offense and his role in it, appears to have found a niche. In his last three games, he has averaged 30.6 points.
"I just came out trying to be aggressive, trying to find the basket," Stackhouse said. "We were a little stagnant at first. I think we might have had somewhat of a hangover from the night before [a road loss to Detroit]. We were trying to tinker with some things defensively, trying to take them out of some of the things they do. But in the second half, we just kind of did what we wanted to do. We wanted to attack their screen and rolls, trap it and then make them make plays."
Heat coach Pat Riley agreed that Stackhouse's offense made the difference in the game.
"We just don't have anybody who can guard him," said Riley, who starts two rookies. "He is a hard guard for our guys."
Michael Jordan scored five points on four shots in the second half on the way to 19 points and eight rebounds. The Wizards also got eight points and 12 rebounds from Christian Laettner.
All the Miami starters finished in double figures, Brian Grant and Travis Best leading the Heat (21-45) with 16 points each.
The game was far different than the teams' meeting earlier this month in Miami, when the Heat won by 10 points against a Wizards team that appeared listless. Said Riley: "I'm sure that loss provided them with some extra incentive."
Yet for the better part of three quarters, the Wizards looked as if they had much more in common with dregs of the league trying to position themselves for a chance at drafting Ohio schoolboy LeBron James.
Washington got it together long enough late in the third quarter and into the fourth to ensure that it would not lose. Collins had said Friday that a loss to the Heat following the Detroit defeat "would be staggering."
Washington outscored the Heat 22-15 in the third quarter, limiting Miami to 6-for-19 shooting. After the Wizards went ahead 56-54 on Stackhouse's jumper with seven minutes to play, they never trailed.
"We stopped them defensively, and our offense took over from there," Jordan said. "In the first half, we were just keeping up with them. We were scoring and they were scoring. We didn't play particularly well defensively in the first half. We picked it up in the second half."

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