- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

TORONTO Vince Carter, looking very much like he did against the Philadelphia 76ers in last year's playoffs, erupted for 25 points in the first half to lead the Toronto Raptors to a 113-96 preseason victory over the Washington Wizards last night.

Carter finished with 31 points even though he made just one basket in the second half. For the game, Carter made 10 of 23 shots from the field.

"He gave them a real surge early," Wizards coach Doug Collins said. "He's a great player, and he's getting better and better with every game. But it's not about our offense. To win in this league, you have to be competitively tough and play aggressively for 48 minutes. We did not do that. We played in spurts. But the big thing is, our defense is sorely lacking and we've got to pick it up.

"My concern is that guys are going to try and turn it on when the regular season starts in New York next week.You can't do that in this league."

The Wizards close the preseason tonight against the Boston Celtics with a game in Uncasville, Conn. Collins will give the Wizards tomorrow off, and then the preparation begins in earnest for perhaps the team's most eagerly awaited opener ever Tuesday at New York.

Michael Jordan led the Wizards with 22 points, thanks largely to his 12-for-12 performance at the line. Courtney Alexander came off the bench to score 20 points.

It's still hard to tell where Jordan is physically. That's because there are times when he is clearly trying to get his teammates involved, passing the ball to cutting players, while other times creating space with his dribble and trying to create some type of flow.

By the same token there are stretches like the start of last night's third quarter when Jordan looks all of 38. He missed all seven of his field goal attempts. Carter also flamed out in the third quarter, making just one of eight shots.

With Jordan, the likeliest scenario is the former. But the Wizards still look unsure of themselves at times. They have no depth at the center, rookie Kwame Brown (one point, 0-for-1 from the field, four rebounds) still looks lost, and they are still waiting for Tyronn Lue and Christian Laettner to contribute. Last night Laettner scored seven points, grabbed five rebounds and handed out five assists in 26 minutes, and he has blocked just one shot the entire preseason.

Lue, brought in to push Chris Whitney, now looks like a lock to come off the bench. Whitney finished with 12 points and one assist. But Lue scored just two points, shot 1-for-5 from the field and dealt just one assist.

Ahead 81-76 at the end of three quarters, the Raptors outscored the Wizards 32-20 in the fourth quarter to improve their preseason record to 5-2. The loss dropped the Wizards to 2-5.

The Raptors shot a lower percentage from the field (41.9) than the Wizards (43.8) and still won easily. That they made nine of 21 3-point attempts had a lot to do with it.

Carter went on a mini-tear, mixing in jumpers and the obligatory two-handed slam-dunk on his way to a 7-for-10 first quarter. Carter began the game on Richard Hamilton, but found himself on Jordan on a switch to the left and above the free throw line. Jordan's series of fakes didn't lose Carter, and Jordan's shot missed everything with 1:05 left in the quarter.

Carter was actually given a gift the play was called a block on the play by the hometown scorekeeper. But Carter earned everything else he got in the quarter. He broke a 20-20 tie with an 18-foot jumper. That started Toronto on a quarter-ending 14-4 run in which Carter had nine points.

With both team's starters on the bench at the start of the second quarter, Alexander kept the Wizards competitive by making his first four shots, one of which was a 3-pointer. During one stretch, Alexander scored seven points during a 9-0 Washington run that pulled the Wizards within 44-42.

But Carter's return to the lineup helped to stabilize the Raptors. Carter immediately hit a 3-pointer and added eight more points in the quarter to bring his total at halftime to 26.

However, Carter was the only Raptor player who really was dominant. He was 9-for-15 from the floor, but his errant teammates dragged the team's overall shooting percentage down to just 38.8 percent.

NOTES Assistant coach Brian James rejoined the Wizards in Toronto after having spent the last two days with his father, Robert, in Bloomington, Ill. Robert James is recovering nicely from open heart surgery, his son said. … With one game left in the preseason, the Wizards yesterday whittled their roster to the league-required 15 players when they released forward Shelly Clark. The Wizards will be allowed to carry 12 players on the active roster and place three on injured reserve by 6 p.m. today.

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