- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2005

The Wizards were characterized as a dumb, disorganized and undisciplined team in the Chicago media last week, and the description hardly could be disputed after the first two games of the series.

But so much of what is taken to be the basketball I.Q. of a vegetable plant with the Wizards is really a reflection of their youth, inexperience and free-flowing style.

Mostly, though, this postseason stuff is new to them, as is it with the Bulls. Both teams find a whole lot more comfort in playing before supportive faces, as was demonstrated anew in Game 3 yesterday on Fun Street, where the Wizards defeated the Bulls 117-99.

It was the Bulls who appeared to be mentally challenged in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood. It was the Bulls who committed dumb foul after dumb foul. It was the Bulls, specifically Ben Gordon, who hurried shots. And it was the Bulls who came apart in the third quarter, just as the Wizards fell apart at United Center.

It was the frustration of Antonio Davis that resulted in his ejection with 5:03 left in the fourth quarter. Davis, a forward with the Bulls, is actually one of the few seasoned players in the series.

Yet he no longer could stomach the proceedings, if not the uneven officiating of Bennett Salvatore, Tony Brothers and Tom Washington.

We now know how the powers that be of the NBA feel about the Wizards-Bulls series. They sent their fourth-string officiating crew to play head games with the players and coaches of both teams.

The trio made so many dubious calls that it was a small miracle that nothing serious happened beyond the ejection of Davis and the technical foul on Etan Thomas.

Salvatore, Brothers and Washington seemingly picked all too many of their calls out of a hat, which sometimes can lead to players taking it out on one another.

“I don’t know if the way the game was called had anything to with [the outcome],” Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. “We are a high-foul team.”

So the Bulls are just as out of their element as the Wizards in a hostile environment, and just as likely to be indecisive in stretches, as well as a step slow to a loose ball and unable to meet the physical force of the opposition.

The Wizards and Bulls now have met six times this season, counting three meetings in the regular season, and the home team has won on all six occasions. The Bulls have lost nine consecutive games on Fun Street.

Of course, with homecourt advantage, the Bulls do not need to win in the nation’s capital to advance to the good news/bad news proposition of the Miami Heat in the next round.

Young teams, no matter how confident and gifted, inevitably have a hard time warding off the negative elements of an unfamiliar venue. And lots of negativity was showered on the Bulls in Abe Pollin’s playpen, notably a sea of white towels being waved in the faces of those who went to the free throw line.

The city waited an awfully long time for this day — too long, in fact — and the highly charged crowd played its part in the game and received high marks from coach Eddie Jordan.

“We got some energy from our fans,” he said.

Near the end, several fans with high-wattage smiles exchanged high-five slaps with one another as if the franchise finally was being released from its imaginary ball and chain.

It was a moment of sorts, as the franchise won a playoff game for the first time since May 4, 1988, ending the longest playoff-victory drought in the NBA.

And the Wizards won it with style and conviction, with better defense and offensive rebounding and with the unexpected 20 points and nine rebounds of Thomas.

No, the Wizards did not look mentally incompetent in Game 3. They had 21 assists on 37 field goals, only 10 turnovers to the Bulls’ 19 and nine steals.

Remember the imploding Gilbert Arenas of Game 1?

Here was his monster stat line in Game 3: 32 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocked shots.

Dorothy was right long ago. There’s no place like home.

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