- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2001


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. During this woeful season there have been so many games in which Washington Wizards coach Leonard Hamilton has demonstrated his disappointment with the play of the team.

Sometimes he has been animated like the time in Milwaukee when he raised the clipboard over his head and slammed it to the floor, where it splintered in front of the team's bench and sometimes he has just called his players back to the bench and scolded them in subtle fashion.

Last night at Continental Airlines Arena, where the Wizards fell to the New Jersey Nets 101-91, featured a rebuke of the latter variety.

After watching New Jersey's Stephon Marbury and Keith Van Horn hit back-to-back 3-pointers, and then seeing Marbury who finished with 20 points cruise in for a layup that put the Nets ahead of the lethargic Wizards 66-47 a little more than three minutes into the second half, Hamilton called timeout and waived the Wizards over to the sidelines.

Leonard's body language during the huddle slumped shoulders, head bowed with the seemingly disinterested bunch of players indicated exactly what the fans already making their way to the exits knew game over.

On a rainy night in the Meadowlands, the Wizards shot 34 percent (31-for-90) from the field. Meanwhile, led by Van Horn (21 points) and Marbury, New Jersey made 49 percent of its shots.

What made the Wizards' shooting percentage seem even worse was that they pulled down 21 offensive rebounds.

"You would have to think that with 21 offensive rebounds we would shoot a better percentage than we did," Hamilton said. "You have to be pleased with the effort going to the basket because that's not easy to do. But you have to convert those."

As a result, the Wizards have lost all three of their games with the Nets by 19, 18 and 10 points, respectively.

"We have difficulty defending them," Hamilton said. "And then they have three guys who can shoot the ball. Athletically they seem to be one of the teams that we have a difficult time matching up with. Their ability to penetrate creates a lot of problems."

Mitch Richmond led the Wizards with 21 points, but he had to take that same number of shots to do so. Richard Hamilton, limited by a sore shoulder, added 15 points but took 14 shots. Christian Laettner posted his second season high in points (19) in as many games with the Wizards, and he also led the team with nine rebounds.

The loss, Washington's 10th in their last 11 games, came against a New Jersey team 18 games below .500 at 20-38 and 22 games out of first place. Washington, on the other hand, dropped 29 games out of first place, the most of any team in the league, even Chicago.

"The only way you can stay motivated under these circumstances is to just keep saying to yourself that it has to get better," Richard Hamilton said. "We've gone through some changes that the team had to make. We all know that it's a business. But we just have to come back and play as hard as we can and try to get a different outcome.

The Wizards will get that opportunity tomorrow night when they play at Miami.

Washington was never really in last night's game, a pattern these days almost as predictable as the sun rising in the East. Last night the Wizards fell behind by as many as 22 points in the third quarter and never challenged after that.

Washington hasn't won a road game since it defeated the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 26. That victory was the third win in their season-long streak of five.

But since that time things have gone rapidly downhill.

The Wizards have long since given up on one-time starting point guard Rod Strickland making a return from sore hamstrings that have kept him sidelined for the better part of two months. And even though they have begun the process of clearing salary cap space with the recent trade of Juwan Howard and the remaining $39 million of his contract to the Mavericks, the product the team will put on the floor the rest of the season clearly won't be a good one.

That was painfully clear in the second quarter, when the Wizards shot just 4-for-23 from the floor against a team not known for defense. New Jersey also held Washington without a field goal in the final 4:08 of the half.

This was part of a stretch in which the Wizards were outscored 21-6. They ultimately found themselves looking up at a 50-38 lead with just 1:28 left in the half.

Center Jahidi White was a prime example of the Wizards' problems these days. With Howard gone, the Wizards have few options in the low post. White, who was just 1-for-6 from the floor in Saturday night's loss to the Toronto Raptors, had as many fouls in the first half two as he did points.

New Jersey had an easy time getting to the basket early against the Wizards, who seemed content not to play defense at all. Of New Jersey's 21 field goals in the first half, 15 were either dunks or layups.

As has been the pattern in recent years when the teams have met, Van Horn and Marbury were the biggest recipients of the Wizards' inability or unwillingness to play defense. Van Horn was 5-for-10 from the floor for 15 points before halftime.

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