- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2001

WIZARDS 95, CAVALIERS 89

Now the Washington Wizards are toying with their victims.
Last night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the organist at MCI Center broke into a version of "If You're Happy And You Know It" late in the game. That's the song that usually signifies the home team has locked up a victory, and last night it was appropriate at the time.
Sure, the Cavaliers rallied late, but they couldn't stop the Wizards from picking up their fifth win in a row with a 95-89 victory in front of 12,721 last night. Cleveland reduced what had been a 21-point third-quarter lead to 92-87 with less than a minute to play and outscored the Wizards 29-17 in the fourth quarter, but it wasn't enough to thwart Washington.
The five-game winning streak is the longest since Washington won six in a row in December 1997. The Wizards (12-34) can equal that with a win tomorrow against Orlando.
"Was I here?" Juwan Howard said jokingly when asked if he could remember the last time the Wizards won five games in a row. "This feels good. It feels good to sit down and answer some questions. When you lose, you're down, your spirit is down, your morale, and then you guys ask some questions over and over about 'why did this or that happen.'
"You're drained mentally, and you want to say, 'You watched the game, too.' But this feels better. You just have to enjoy this moment right now. But we're not going to stop. We've got a lot of ground to cover, and we just have to look forward to our matchup on Wednesday."
Wizards coach Leonard Hamilton spoke cautiously about the winning streak. The Wizards made 52 percent of their shots in the first three quarters but faded in the fourth, connecting on just four of 16 shots. But the often-stoic coach allowed that there is a different mood surrounding the Wizards.
"I think we're getting better. I really do," Hamilton said. "I think there were times when we did a very, very good job. We just hit a period where we just didn't make shots. You can always expect a team to make a run. Fortunately we were able to keep them at bay.
"I'm probably tempering my enthusiasm a little bit, not because I'm not excited and I'm not happy. I know where this team has come [from]. I've always felt that this team could be at this point, but I'd like to see us become the very best that we can become. I want us to stay focused and understand that there is a lot of basketball left. We need to take advantage of this opportunity and continue to grow."
Perhaps most important to preserving the win were three blocks by center Jahidi White in the final 3:30. As a team the Wizards blocked 10 shots.
"I think those blocks were huge because they were starting to attack the basket," Hamilton said. "I think they helped keep them at bay."
Howard, who has been playing like an All-Star for the last six weeks, led the Wizards with 24 points. Richard Hamilton added 14 points. Mitch Richmond and Tyrone Nesby came off the bench to add 12 and 10 points, respectively. Michael Smith grabbed 11 rebounds in 20 minutes, and White added eight points and eight rebounds to go with the rejections. Starter Calvin Booth, who shares time at center with White, had four rejections.
Jimmy Jackson led the Cavaliers (20-22) with 14 points. Point guard Andre Miller had 12 points and 10 assists, and Chris Gatling came off the Cleveland bench to score 13 points.
Cleveland has lost 15 of its last 20 games and 11 of 13 on the road.
The Wizards played one of their better first halves of the year. They outran, outshot and outrebounded Cleveland to take a 57-38 lead into the locker room. Their play prompted the MCI faithful to shower them with a standing ovation as they disappeared into the tunnel at half.
In Washington's win over Phoenix on Saturday, Washington scored 29 points in the fourth quarter. That same aggression carried over into the first quarter last night. Washington scored 28 points in the first quarter while shooting 57.9 percent from the field. Howard led the way with eight points.
Meanwhile, the defense was just as sharp. The Wizards forced Cleveland into 8-for-19 shooting.
Washington continued that effort in the second quarter, beginning it with a 10-2 run. When Tyrone Nesby put back his own missed jumper with 8:20 left in the half, Washington had built its lead to 38-22.
Cleveland shook off the doldrums at this point and went on a 10-2 run of its own that narrowed Washington's lead to eight points.
But once again the Wizards kicked up their intensity. Howard hit a jumper to give the Wizards a 44-32 advantage, and Washington closed the half on a 17-6 run.


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