- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 22, 2000


Just as the undefeated Philadelphia 76ers are the surprise team of the NBA, the talent-rich Portland Trail Blazers have been its biggest mystery.

They have the dubious distinction of being the only team to lose to the wretched Atlanta Hawks, and they have been no better than average on the road. But last night against the Washington Wizards average was good enough to produce a 104-94 win at MCI Center.

When the Blazers needed to summon the requisite moxie to slap away the Wizards, they did just that. Leading by 84-79 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Blazers held the Wizards without a field goal for five minutes in the middle of the quarter. In the process, the lead expanded to 99-84 with 5:27 left to play. From there it was a done deal.

The loss dropped Washington's record to 3-9, equaling the team's worst start since the 1980-81 season.

The Blazers improved to 8-5, and they didn't even have their full contingent of weapons. They had the luxury of sitting Rasheed Wallace when he got in foul trouble, and they didn't even need Shawn Kemp, who was ejected from the game in the second quarter.

For most of the night, though, neither player was necessary. If the two teams were boxers, the Blazers had the devastating jab, doing just enough to win handily.

"They did a very good job of exploiting some matchups [in which] they had some advantages," Wizards coach Leonard Hamilton said. "They just did all the things that you do when you have talented guys. You take advantage of their skills and play to their strengths. They took advantage of some areas where we're not quite as strong. We had our moments. We executed and did a lot of things well. They had some mismatches in size and never really allowed us to get any type of rhythm. But talent-wise they're scary."

And deep.

Portland placed seven players in double figures in scoring, led by Steve Smith's team-high 24. Three of those players came off the Blazers' bench, led by guard Greg Anthony's 17. Anthony killed the Wizards from long range, making four of five from behind the 3-point line.

Mitch Richmond led the Wizards with a game-high 24 points and nine rebounds. Rod Strickland added 16 points, and second-year guard Richard Hamilton came off the bench to score 16.

Last night the Wizards caught a Portland team that was playing the sixth game of a seven-game, 10-day road trip that concludes in Milwaukee tonight, so it would have been understandable if Portland had been sluggish.

But Portland came out sharp against the Wizards to take an 8-2 lead early in the first quarter. However, following a timeout the Wizards got back into the game and played Portland to a draw at the end of the first quarter.

Portland, which made 55.5 percent of its shots in the first quarter, got a boost from its bench in the second from Anthony. Anthony found the range from long distance, connecting on all but one of his 3-point attempts to finish the first half with 11 points. Smith led the Blazers with 14 points in the half, and Wallace scored 12 of his 14 points before halftime.

What hurt the Wizards once again was the inability to get a consistent game against a foe that has so many weapons. Forward Juwan Howard, who has been playing well of late, scored just nine points and was 4-for-12 from the floor. In addition, the Wizards were outrebounded 43-33.

"They have all the weapons," Hamilton said. "We would have had to have had someone to create an atmosphere where they had to adjust to us. And we were consistently trying to adjust to them."

Scottie Pippen, who has been bothered by a troublesome back since training camp, said the Blazers remain confident despite of their rocky start.

"We are not playing our best basketball yet, and I think we realize that," said Pippen, who scored a season-high 14. "So far on this road trip we are 5-2, and this win will make us feel better about ourselves. We know we should have gotten out of the blocks a little better, but it's too late for that. We'll just try to complete this road trip with a win tomorrow night."

The Wizards did get some outside help in the first half. With 5:37 left and the Blazers on top 40-37, referee Kevin Fehr ejected the grossly overweight Kemp from the game. Kemp was jawing incessantly after being called for an obvious foul against Washington's Jahidi White. As Kemp walked away with his back to Fehr, Kemp hurled obscenities at the referee. Fehr promptly called a second technical and ejected Kemp, who had to be restrained by, of all people, Wallace.

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