- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 15, 2001

Richard Hamilton was hitting shots all over the place in the first half last night, hitting them off the dribble, hitting them going to the basket, hitting them after running off screens and taking a pass.
Hamilton found the so-called "zone" in the second quarter, when he seemingly could have hit shots with his eyes closed. When Hamilton re-entered the game with 6:24 left in the quarter, the Wizards were in the throes of a funk. The Wizards held only a three-point lead on the Knicks, and even the elementary was difficult.
Hamilton changed all that. He converted a driving layup, and then he hit two free throw attempts, and then he hit a 15-foot jumper.
The Wizards could see what was happening, and they, Michael Jordan included, stepped in line behind Hamilton. They fed him the ball. They fed off his sense of well-being. Jordan started to find his shooting stroke, and Tyronn Lue hit a 3-pointer in the last minute of the quarter, and before the halftime buzzer sounded, the Wizards had a 13-point lead and a conviction that this was their game.
This is what decent teams do. They put away tired teams early, and the Knicks, playing their third game in four nights, were a tired team.
Hamilton finished with a season-high 34 points and Jordan added 19 as the Wizards defeated the Knicks 96-80.
The Wizards are starting to get the hang of this stuff. They are starting to understand. They have reclaimed their season after winning five games in a row. They have re-evaluated the half-truths around the Eastern Conference, and they are starting to realize that you don't have to be all that special against most of the teams in the East. You just have to beat the hurt ones, the tired ones. You just have to defend your home floor.
"I don't think there is a knockout team in the East," coach Doug Collins said. "We sort of woke Boston up [in the overtime game], and they are playing well. Jason Kidd has totally energized New Jersey. Rick Carlisle has done a great job in Detroit."
The Knicks, meanwhile, are in the midst of redefining who they are following the resignation of Jeff Van Ankle Weight last Saturday.
Van Ankle Weight never could accept who the Knicks really are, which is a sleek, quick but undersized team. Van Ankle Weight was forever stuck in the '90s, when Patrick Ewing was around and he was an assistant to Pat Riley. He was the quintessential control freak who could not adapt to the personnel, who insisted on playing power ball with small-ball types.
Don Chaney, Van Ankle Weight's replacement, has reintroduced the fastbreak to the Knicks, opening the floor to Latrell Sprewell, Marcus Camby and Allan Houston. That results in the Knicks being more formidable as well as more vulnerable. The Knicks are scoring more points since Chaney made it cool again to score. They also are 1-3 with Chaney.
"They don't want to lose what has been good to them, their team defense," Collins said. "But Sprewell, Camby and Houston are awfully dangerous in the open court, and they are looking to run more."
The Knicks just were looking for a place to hide in the second half. They never mounted a serious challenge.
With the shot clock winding down, Hubert Davis sank a hurried 3-pointer to stake the Wizards to an 84-67 lead with 8:35 left. It was that kind of night on Fun Street.
It was an almost perfect night until an X-ray revealed a break in the fibula of Christian Laettner's left leg. Laettner limped off the floor in the first quarter after crashing to the floor on defense. Laettner is expected to be sidelined at least one month.
Near the end, with a comfortable lead, Collins was able to pull Jordan and insert, among others, rookie Kwame Brown, who has been relegated to gratuitous minutes in recent weeks. That is certain to change with Laettner on the shelf.
"[Laettners injury] comes at a bad time because we are playing our best basketball of the season," Collins said. "Winning is a high. When you win, it carries you. We have a real nice energy right now."
It has been a long time since a coach of the Wizards could say that.

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