- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2002

Michael Jordan, unseen for the most part since suffering a season-ending knee injury, sat on the bench for the second half of the Washington Wizards game with the Philadelphia 76ers last night and was treated to a glimpse of the team's future.
In particular, he had to like the ferocious play of rookie center Etan Thomas, who posted career highs in points (14) and rebounds (15) as the Wizards (36-43) defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 90-77 at MCI Center.
After blowing a 17-point lead, the Wizards played masterful defense down the stretch, holding Philadelphia scoreless for the final 4 minutes, 43 seconds of the fourth quarter.
The win, coupled with Indiana's victory over Toronto, kept the Wizards alive in the quest for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The Wizards have three games left (tomorrow at Philadelphia, Saturday against the Pacers and Tuesday against New York).
The Wizards earned the victory by playing defense down the stretch, something that coach Doug Collins said had been missing for about a month.
"I told the guys when they tied the game that you've got to win it with defense, and that's what we did. We scored the last 13 points of the game. That was a very, very encouraging sign."
It started when the Sixers erased a 75-62 lead in the fourth quarter with a 15-2 run to tie the game at 77 with 4:43 left.
At that point most of the 20,674 faithful at MCI Center probably figured the Wizards were going to lose another game.
But that wasn't the case. The Wizards squeezed the 76ers every time they got the ball, forcing them to take bad shots, in many cases with the clock running down.
And clearly Thomas was the star. In the fourth quarter alone Thomas scored seven points and grabbed eight rebounds. He also added two of his crucial three blocked shots to help the Wizards shut the door.
It was a sweet moment for Thomas, who has seen his playing time fluctuate for much of the season but has worked hard to remain ready when he was needed.
"Coach has been telling me all year just to keep working and everything is going to pay off," Thomas said. "That's what I've been doing, just trying to be ready once he calls my name."
Actually, the Wizards played well at the defensive end for most of the night, holding Philadelphia which was without Allen Iverson and Derrick Coleman to just 37.3 percent shooting from the field.
The Wizards earned the victory despite season-high performances from Eric Snow (26 points) and Aaron McKie (24)
The Wizards entered last night's game in the not-so-enviable position of needing to win all four of their remaining games. One more loss and it doesn't matter what other teams do, the Wizards are gone.
By the same token, the Wizards also need Toronto to drop all of its remaining games.
The Wizards were led by Richard Hamilton's 21 points. Courtney Alexander added 16 points, and Jahidi White scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds. White outplayed former Georgetown star and league All-Star Dikembe Mutombo, who finished with nine points and six rebounds.
The Wizards responded to Philadelphia's 13-0 run with a 9-0 run of their own to take a 26-23 lead early in the second quarter.
The Wizards took control of the game with that run, and they did it with their defense. Not only did they hold the Sixers to just five of 19 shooting from the floor, but they made 58 percent of their shots.
Hamilton presented the biggest matchup problem for the 76ers. Held scoreless in the first quarter, Hamilton exploded in the second for 11, with most of them coming on the mid-range jumper that has been the bulk of his offense this season.
At one point Hamilton scored 15 straight points against the Sixers all of the Wizards points from 39-54 leaving defenders in his wake.
After playing decently at the start of the game, the Sixers were outscored in the second quarter 33-14. And they did little to dig themselves out of the hole in the third quarter when they shot an abysmal 37 percent from the field.
Nonetheless, the scrappy 76ers fought their way back into the game. They cut what had been a 17-point deficit to six points on reserve forward Derrick McKey's layup. And on their next possession, McKie's 3-pointer reduced the lead to just three points at 77-74.
The Sixers tied the score at 77-77 on McKie's 3-point play with 4:43 left in the game. However, the Sixers were denied the lead thanks to Alexander's jumper with 2:40 to play. And Thomas, fouled while battling for a rebound, made both free throws to restore the lead to 81-77 with less than two minutes to play.
The Sixers failed to convert two field goal attempts at the other end, and Thomas corralled another rebound. Hamilton was fouled on that possession and converted both free throws to give Washington an 83-77 lead with less than one minute left.

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