- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2001

TORONTO Several different languages can be heard at Air Canada Centre during breaks in the action of Toronto Raptors games, but those language barriers dissipate when the Raptors don't meet their fans' expectations.
The universal language of the dissatisfied sports fan boos came raining down on the Raptors yesterday afternoon as the home team saw a huge lead evaporate against the Washington Wizards.
The booing would seem to indicate the Raptors did more things wrong than the Wizards did right and that would be a disservice to Washington, one of the hottest teams in the NBA.
The suddenly unbeatable Wizards won their sixth straight game, 93-88, by battling back from a 19-point deficit after they withstood seven 3-pointers in the first half. The Wizards also showed their mettle by clamping down and shutting out Vince Carter in the second half after he produced 23 points in the first half.
All those things, along with holding the Raptors to just 36 points in the second half, helped the team match its longest winning streak since they won six in a row in December 1997.
"We had a lot of great things happen for us," coach Doug Collins said. "And our guys are confident. We were down 19 and we kept our poise and that's what I'm happy about. We had to keep our poise, especially when we got down early and we did. Tonight we did it with our defense in the third quarter. We took a lot of pride in winning this game."
Once again, the Wizards (11-12) received a great performance from Richard Hamilton, who led all scorers with 27 points and tied Chris Whitney for a team high with four assists. Also of note was the play of rookie power forward Kwame Brown. Brown, although he didn't start as expected for the injured Christian Laettner Popeye Jones got the call had nine points, 10 rebounds and a pair of steals.
"I was really happy with Kwame; he did a great job," Collins said.
As did backup center Brendan Haywood. Haywood played future Hall-of-Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon to a virtual standoff, tallying nine points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots in 31 minutes compared to Olajuwon's 10 points, seven boards and two rejections.
"I feel very comfortable out there with those two guys now," Collins said.
Even little-used reserve Tyrone Nesby played a major role. Nesby scored just two points and was 0-for-5 from the field, but his defense helped the Wizards shut Carter out in the second half. Carter, who was also guarded by Michael Jordan in the second half, was 0-for-4 from the field after halftime.
"That was something that I was able to contribute today, so I'm happy about that," Nesby said.
The Wizards are playing so well these days that now they can survive a bad shooting day by Jordan. He finished with 21 points but made just eight of 21 shots.
They also showed that they can stave off a wild comeback attempt, which is what the Raptors staged late in the fourth quarter. After being down by eight points early in the fourth quarter, Toronto closed the margin to 82-79 on a layup by Alvin Williams (17 points, eight assists) with 3:48 to play.
But Whitney squeezed in two of his three 3-pointers in a 7-0 Washington run that restored the lead to 10 points, killed the Raptors hopes and ignited more booing.
"The shots and the opportunity were there," Whitney said. "I've never shied away from what they call a big shot. The shots were there, I took them and I made them."
Collins has pointed to the Atlanta game Wednesday at MCI Center as the true litmus test for whether the team has turned the corner.
A win would move the Wizards to .500 and give them their longest winning streak since they won seven straight meaningless games at the end of the 1995-96 season. That year the Wizards finished 39-43. Whitney is the only current Wizard to be a part of that winning streak, but yesterday he had trouble recalling it.
"I can't remember a winning streak this long," Whitney said. "The good thing about it is that it's early in the season and it means something. We've won games before when it didn't mean anything. Now we're even winning games on the road."
True. The Wizards improved to 7-6 on the road. Not bad for a team that has already experienced an eight-game losing streak.
The Wizards fell behind by 19 points as the Raptors posted 34 points in the first quarter. It was the most points scored by any Washington opponent in the first quarter this season.
As gloomy as the start was, the Wizards rose from the ashes with their defense.
Down 33-14 after Carter hit one of the Raptors' seven first-half 3-pointers, the Wizards closed the quarter with a 9-1 run to cut the lead to 34-23. This was the beginning of a 20-3 Washington surge that wiped out the lead and pulled the Wizards to within 36-34 following a pair of free throws from Brown with 6:43 left in the half.

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