- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2001

SONICS 104, WIZARDS 101

For entertainment value, the 11,591 fans at MCI Center got a great show from the Washington Wizards.

Unfortunately, they didn't get the result they were looking for. Washington fought valiantly from behind only to come up short once again last night, this time falling to the Seattle SuperSonics 104-101.

This one was particularly hard to take because the Wizards (7-30) did everything right down the stretch. They outrebounded Seattle 19-5 in the fourth quarter. And in the final 6:29 the Wizards held the Sonics (19-18) to just two field goals, helping Washington cut into a 10-point deficit in the final 4:45.

But the game slipped away from them for good when the Wizards, down 102-101, missed three shots in a row one by Juwan Howard, a dunk by Tyrone Nesby and a jumper by Richard Hamilton that bounced off the rim.

"Nine out of 10 times I'm going to hit that shot," said Howard, who finished with 21 points and eight rebounds. "If I get that opportunity again I'll hit it. I was either going to win or put us up by one. That's what I had in my head."

The Wizards still had one more chance. After Seattle's Gary Payton (20 points) hit a pair of free throws with 5.2 seconds left, Hamilton missed a 3 as time ran out.

"We had four or five different options on that one," Wizards coach Leonard Hamilton said, "and that was one of them. It seemed like every option was clearly available. We got good looks."

One option was Chris Whitney, who again started for Rod Strickland. With Strickland excused from the game by the team last night, Whitney finished the game with 22 points and eight assists. He was hot from outside, which is what the Wizards needed at the time. Whitney hit a career-high six 3-pointers last night.

"I know I could have hit it, I know I could," said Whitney, who was unguarded and behind the arc on the play. "I know. But Richard had a good look at the basket. He had a good shot, and he took it. There wasn't a lot of time left."

The Wizards also got 19 points from Nesby, and reserve forward Michael Smith had his most productive game of the season, finishing with a season-high 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.

Ruben Patterson was second to Payton with 19 points. As a team, the Sonics connected on 39 of 82 shots (47.6 percent), compared to the Wizards' 39 for 87 (44.8).

After turning over the ball 13 times in the first half, the Wizards coughed it up just three times in the second half.

Of course, these days Wizards games are just the backdrop for the ever-evolving Strickland saga.

Apparently, Strickland and president of basketball operations Michael Jordan reached an understanding that the embattled player would not be at last night's game.

"He had an excused absence," Wizards general manager Wes Unseld said. "He and Michael had that understanding."

Strickland has been a lightning rod for negative attention since he missed two practices, a doctor's appointment and a team flight to Miami that ultimately cost him a one-game suspension and a fine for $111,111.

Since then, Strickland has been sidelined with sore hamstrings and was diagnosed with a partially torn muscle in his left shoulder. However, he was also flagged with his third drunken-driving arrest in as many years early Sunday morning.

Seattle, which ended a four-game losing streak one night earlier with a win over the Hawks, got little resistance from the Wizards in the first quarter. In fact, the Wizards helped the Sonics out with seven turnovers that Seattle converted into 14 points. The biggest beneficiary of Washington's sloppy play was Patterson. He easily got out in transition, going 4-for-4 from the floor for eight points.

With Payton getting out on the break, hitting the open jumper and slashing past Washington defenders, the Sonics used a 19-7 run to take a 53-38 lead with 3:24 left in the half. The Wizards scored just three field goals in a six-minute span.

Washington trailed by eight points at halftime despite hitting 56.8 percent of its shots. Nesby and Howard carried the Wizards with 12 and 11 points, respectively.


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