- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 13, 2002

PHILADELPHIA For Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins, the sinking feeling that comes with being eliminated from the NBA playoff race didn't immediately set in last night.

"I don't think I'll think of it until Wednesday, when the finality of it sets in," Collins said after the Philadelphia 76ers' 100-91 victory before 20,823 at First Union Center ended the Wizards' hopes of reaching the playoffs for yet one more season.

"I've never coached a team where you weren't getting ready for the playoffs. The interesting thing about this business is, you're on this treadmill for about six months, and you're going, going, going. And without the playoffs it just stops. There is no easing down. I think it will be Wednesday when we wake up and have our exit interviews, talk to the players and lay out the plans for what we want to get accomplished."

What the Wizards accomplished this season was being a team that was competitive when games became meaningful at the end something they never achieved last season with a 19-63 record. And if they can win their remaining games against Indiana, which is still fighting to reach the playoffs, and the terrible New York Knicks, they will double last year's win total.

The Wizards (36-44), led by Richard Hamilton's 21 points and Courtney Alexander's 20, came into the game needing something akin to a miracle winning the remaining games on their schedule while the Toronto Raptors dropped all of theirs to qualify for the playoffs. But even as the Wizards played hard to the end, they got no help from the Atlanta Hawks, who last night fell by 39 to the Raptors.

"It wouldn't have mattered if we had won anyway, huh?" said Alexander. "Well, we came into the game not concerning ourselves with what other teams do. Unfortunately, we lost and Toronto won."

Playing without Allen Iverson and top reserve Aaron McKie, the Sixers (42-37) were just too much for the Wizards to deal with, despite another double-double from rookie center Etan Thomas (12 points, 11 rebounds). The Sixers outscored the Wizards 54-34 in the paint. Philadelphia also dominated on the boards 47-33.

"We didn't rebound very good against them the last time," Sixers coach Larry Brown said of the Wizards' victory over the 76ers on Wednesday at MCI Center. "In Washington, they really hurt us, especially Etan Thomas. We did a better, more consistent job tonight. Their young kids are so athletic, and I think they have a heck of a future. We did a terrific job considering the last game."

Philadelphia got a season-high 24 points and 16 rebounds from center Dikembe Mutombo. Derrick Coleman, playing on a gimpy knee, finished with 20 points. And Speedy Claxton, starting in place of Iverson, finished with 19 points and nine assists.

The Wizards lost starting center Jahidi White with a sprained right ankle with 10:58 left in the third quarter.

The loss leaves the Wizards on the outside looking in on the playoffs for the fifth year in a row. An argument could be made that the Wizards might have reached the postseason had they not lost Michael Jordan to a season-ending knee injury following their April 2 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

By missing the playoffs, Jordan, who did not travel with the team, will miss the postseason for the first time in his 14 seasons in the league.

When Coleman sank a 3-pointer that gave the Sixers a 99-89 lead with 1:14 left, it was time for the Wizards to reflect on what they had accomplished as well as what is to come.

"We ended on a good note," Hamilton said. "We've definitely got a lot to look forward to. We've got two games left, and guys are still playing; guys are still competing. It's a good thing for us."

Hamilton then leaned back against his locker and thought about what he said.

"But we didn't reach our goal," he sighed. "That is where we thought we were heading. That hurts. But that's reality."

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