- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 15, 2001

Meetings between the Washington Wizards and the New York Knicks used to have endings similar to the meetings between the lions and the Christians, and we don't need to tell you who played the lions.

But last night the lions limped off with their tails curled tightly between their legs.

The Washington Wizards' resurrection tour played MCI Center again last night, and the Wizards used their best game of the year and the best half of Richard Hamilton's professional career to extend their winning streak to five games with a 96-80 mauling of the Knicks.

But the Wizards (10-12), who now have their first five-game winning streak since last season, were forced to take a tempered approach to their improved play. That's because staring forward Christian Laettner suffered a broken left leg early in the first quarter and is expected to be out for at least one month. He was placed on the injured list and replaced on the roster by Bobby Simmons after the game.

Laettner, averaging 8.8 points and 5.9 rebounds, will require surgery. Fortunately for the Wizards, the injury is not to a weight-bearing bone.

"He was animated, and he was playing maybe his best basketball of the season in terms of the whole game," coach Doug Collins said. "Now we're going to have to turn to the young guys. Kwame Brown and Etan Thomas are going to have to step up and give us something now."

But the loss of Laettner did not dim the Wizards' locker room too much. Not after Hamilton struck for a season-high 34 points, seven assists and grabbed five rebounds.

Hamilton's effort included 27 in the first half the most this season in one half by a Wizard, surpassing Michael Jordan's 24 in the first half of a loss to Utah and fanned the Wizards' flame for the rest of the night.

"It's tough with Laett gone, but we're a young team," Hamilton said. "We're a young team, and we want to get better. We've got a lot to prove. Every game we feel like we've got a lot to prove. Other than Michael and a few other guys, nobody has proven anything in the NBA. This is the way to do it."

Hamilton proved himself by going 14-for-24 from the field and hitting all five of his free throws.

"Rip just keeps getting better and better and better," Collins said of Hamilton, who made a conscious effort to get his teammates involved in the game.

Jordan finished with 19 points and six rebounds and as many assists. Popeye Jones grabbed 11 rebounds and nine points. Hubert Davis added nine points for the Wizards, who held an opponent to 82 or fewer points for the fourth game in a row. The Wizards led by as many as 19 points, and New York never got closer than 12 in the second half.

The Wizards, who never trailed after they took the lead for good at 9-7 in the first quarter, shot 46.3 percent from the field while holding the Knicks to 35.4 percent. Reserve forward and former Georgetown standout Othella Harrington led the Knicks (11-12), who were playing their second game in as many nights, with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

Hamilton has been the hottest player on the team, having scored 23 or more points in four of the team's last five games. And at the start of last night's contest, it was clear he was headed for another big night.

Guarded for most of the third quarter by Allan Houston (13 points), Hamilton went to the midrange game that Collins calls the finest in the game almost exclusively on the way to 13 first-quarter points.

Hamilton's hot shooting in the first quarter he was 6-for-12 from the floor showed no signs of abatement in the second. After opening the quarter with two quick baskets to put the lead at 31-23, Hamilton came out of the game, and the Knicks worked themselves back into the game with an 8-0 run.

It didn't take long for Collins to realize the team was better served with Hamilton on the court rather than on the bench, so he reinserted him with 6:24 left, and this time Hamilton got everyone involved.

Twice he drew the defense and found Jordan for open jumpers. And as the Wizards closed the half on a 21-11 run which coincided with his return to the game others started to respond to his energy.

This was made emphatic when the little-used Brown rose up and slammed home a missed jumper with one hand with 46.2 seconds left in the half, putting the Wizards up 50-36.

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