- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2001


MILWAUKEE Playing from behind isn't a smart idea for the good teams in the NBA. And for the Washington Wizards, fighting and scratching for anything these days, it simply doesn't work.

The Wizards battled back from a double-digit deficit last night at the Bradley Center only to come up short against the Milwaukee Bucks 99-95.

The loss was the fourth in a row for the Wizards, who have lost eight straight road games and 18 of 21 overall.

Earlier this season the Wizards said they had no interest in "moral victories." Now they sound open to them.

"I think it shows lot of character about this team right here," said Wizards forward Juwan Howard, who led the team with 25 points and 10 rebounds. "We still were chipping at the lead. We didn't show any type of attitude where we were giving up. We wanted to at least take them down to the wire trying to win that game."

No doubt the lower expectations are the result of the constant battering the Wizards have taken. At 7-29, they are light-years out of the playoff race only the Chicago Bulls' triple-overtime loss to the Charlotte Hornets last night kept them from having the worst record in the NBA with the All-Star Game more than a month away. Still, Howard wouldn't give up on the playoffs.

"You look at a lot of these teams that are ahead of us, especially in the Atlantic Division, some of those teams that are in the eighth spot have 23 losses. This is far from being over," Howard said. "But we need to win now, of course. We can't continue to make excuses."

Chris Whitney added 19 points and 10 assists, and Richard Hamilton came off the bench to contribute 13 points.

Sam Cassell, one of five Milwaukee players to reach double figures in scoring, finished with 23. Glenn Robinson added 19 points. Ray Allen finished with 17, as did reserve guard Lindsey Hunter.

Washington fell behind the Bucks by 12 points at the start of the fourth quarter. But the Bucks have shown a propensity not to play defense down the stretch, and last night was no different.

Washington capitalized on turnovers and other mistakes by the Bucks and, with 5:58 left in the game, climbed within 84-80 on a jumper from reserve forward Gerard King.

After Milwaukee called a timeout, Whitney hit a 3-pointer that pulled Washington within 84-83.

But the Wizards would get no closer, mostly because of Robinson.

With the Wizards trailing 92-89, Robinson blocked back-to-back shots by Howard and Hamilton. This led to a layup by reserve center Ervin Johnson that gave Milwaukee a 94-89 lead, forcing the Wizards to call timeout with 2:12 left. The closest the Wizards came the rest of the way was two points.

The Bucks shot 49.4 percent (38-for-77) from the floor, including 8-for-15 on 3-pointers. As a result the Bucks have won seven home games in a row. Still, Bucks coach George Karl, perhaps the hardest coach in the NBA to satisfy, was displeased the Wizards got back in the game.

"I'm happy with the win. But I think in general we're fortunate as much as playing well," Karl said. "We're fortunate that we're not playing teams that have a lot of firepower. We're making plays down the stretch, but I just don't see us playing 48 minutes of basketball. There's always something with this team. One game we don't pass, the next we don't defend. Then we don't shoot."

The Bucks have yet to figure out who their leader is, and in recent games that has been painfully evident. In dropping both games of a Western swing that took them to Portland and Vancouver, the Bucks allowed 119 and 120 points, respectively.

Early on, Cassell had the hot hand against the Wizards, who were once again without the services of starters Mitch Richmond, Rod Strickland and Jahidi White. Guarded by Whitney, one of the few players in the league the 6-foot-3 Baltimore product can look down on, Cassell made all but one of his six shots on the way to 11 points.

Just how potent an offensive machine the Bucks can be was on display early in the second quarter. Instead of attacking the basket something teams have had success doing against the Wizards the Bucks opted to stand behind the 3-point line and fire away.

Milwaukee's first five baskets of the quarter were 3s, the last of which came from Hunter to give the Bucks a 42-32 lead. In fact, the Bucks didn't hit a two-point basket until Allen's breakaway dunk with 4:43 left in the quarter gave the Bucks their biggest margin of the first half at 44-32.

Hunter played a key role in sparking the Bucks to their lead, pumping in all but two of his 11 first-half points in the second quarter.

However, behind the play of Howard and Tyrone Nesby, the Wizards closed the gap. Howard went for 16 points in the first half. Nesby added eight, and Felipe Lopez, who was held scoreless in 15 minutes in the team's loss to New York on Sunday night, added eight points. This enabled the Wizards to pull within 48-44 with under one minute to play in the half.

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