- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

The Dallas Mavericks have a constellation of stars, any one of which is capable of elevating his game and lifting the team to victory.
Against the Washington Wizards yesterday, point guard Steve Nash was that player.
Nash finished with 22 points and 12 assists at MCI Center to help the Mavericks secure their league-best 24th road win of the season with a 110-103 victory before a sell-out crowd of 20,674.
Nash, selected to the All-Star team for the first time this winter, imperiled the Wizards' hopes of reaching the playoffs by taking control in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.
"He's a great player," Wizards coach Doug Collins stated flatly. "He will take those shots, he loves to take them and he will make them. I mean, he had two big shots. He's a terrific player."
The two big shots included Nash's 3-pointer with 2:20 left in the game that put the Mavericks (51-22) ahead for good after the teams had been tied seven times in less than five minutes.
And after Courtney Alexander pulled the Wizards (34-39) within 99-98 on a short jumper, Nash restored the lead to three with a 21-foot jumper. The Mavericks, who lead the Midwest Division, never trailed again. Nash saw to that, scoring 10 of his team's final 14 points.
With the loss, the Wizards' chances of reaching the playoffs grew more dim. Coupled with Indiana's 100-81 victory at Miami, the Wizards fell 2 games behind the Pacers in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. In addition, the Toronto Raptors beat Philadelphia 72-70 and moved a game ahead of the Wizards into ninth.
"Indiana went out and took care of business today," said Michael Jordan, who scored just 10 points on 4-for-14 shooting. "That means we have to continue to play hard and try and get some wins here and there. We've got nine games left, and anything can happen within those nine games. But first and foremost we've got to take it game by game and go out and do our job."
The Wizards' road to the playoffs only gets tougher tomorrow when the Los Angeles Lakers visit. Then they travel to Milwaukee and Charlotte later this week.
"You can look at it one of two ways," Alexander said. "You can submit or you can realize the task at hand and pretty much leave it all out on the floor. We're at a position now where we have to win. Hopefully we can channel our energy and get the wins. If not, we're all going to be disappointed."
In their spirited defeat, the Wizards did things that, for the most part, have resulted in wins against weaker Eastern Conference foes.
They shot the ball well (48.3 percent) and never let Dallas, the highest-scoring team in the league, take more than a seven-point lead until the last minute of the game.
Nash's healthy respect for Jordan provided the impetus for his play in the decisive stretch. Even though Jordan was still coming off the bench, Nash felt that the game was too close.
"You can't really give Mike a chance to win the game," said Nash, who had just three points at halftime. "We really knew we couldn't get down one or keep it even. We had to try and get a gap there because we had little room for mistakes at the end with him out there."
Even though Collins lauded the efforts of his team after the game, the one area in which the Wizards fell short was defending the perimeter. The Mavericks made 10 of 20 shots from behind the 3-point arc.
"They shot as well as they could shoot and we were right there in the last two minutes, so I'm so disappointed for our guys because our guys worked so hard," Collins said. "But that team is really good. We have an 'L' to show for it, but I don't think that we lost. That's as good as we can play, no question."
Richard Hamilton led six Wizards in double figures with 23 points, but he was just 1-for-4 from the field in the fourth quarter. Hamilton also had five assists. Alexander had a strong effort, finishing with 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting. Christian Laettner, starting at center in place of Jahidi White, scored 11 and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Dallas' other All-Star, Dirk Nowitzki, scored 23 points and pulled down 12 rebounds. Nowitzki was 3-for-5 from behind the 3-point line.


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