- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 17, 2002

The Washington Wizards' season didn't end last night with a trip to the playoffs, but for the first time in quite a while the season ended unburdened by negativity.
Facing a New York Knicks team that has long since given up on the season, Courtney Alexander's 20 points led seven Washington players in double figures as the Wizards posted a season-high point total in a 116-112 victory at MCI Center.
The Knicks will finish out of the playoffs for the first time since 1986-87.
In closing the season on a winning note the Wizards went with younger players for most of the night, and they performed well.
Tyrone Nesby finished with 18 points. Rookie Bobby Simmons, who has played well down the stretch, added a career-high 15 points. Fellow rookie forward Kwame Brown had 10 points and 11 rebounds, and Popeye Jones had 11 points and nine rebounds.
"Now the hard part begins," Wizards coach Doug Collins said. "The next step is harder and we're all going to have to be committed to being a little bit better next year. Players, coaches, everybody."
The Wizards were forced to play without Richard Hamilton, who missed the season finale with a strained right groin.
With the victory, the Wizards ended a three-season run not including the lockout truncated 1998-99 season where their record worsened each year. By winning for the 37th time this season the Wizards came within a victory of doubling last season's win total of 19.
After the game, the Wizards gathered on the court to hand out jerseys to preselected fans. Michael Jordan, in street clothes, joined his teammates. His presence represented the issue that will hang over the team this summer whether he will return to the team for one final season.
Jordan has said he intends to come back, but injuries limited his availability to 60 games this season. He has intimated he will have surgery on his left knee. However, he has made it clear that he will not play if his health problems persist.
And even if he does not return, Jones, a free agent, thinks the Wizards should at least be a playoff contender again.
"I think so," Jones said. "We have enough guys here where I think we're capable of getting to the next level. I think at the end of the season, the way the young guys played out here, they're going to be big for us and help us a lot."
After the game the younger players all sounded as if they bonded and are eager to return next season.
"It's a good feeling because everybody supported each other," Simmons said. "We grew as a team and everybody supports the next guy. We all pull for each other when we're on the court. This year was a learning experience for us, but I'm looking forward to coming back next season."
Latrell Sprewell (26 points) and Allan Houston (24) led the Knicks (30-51).
The Wizards twice blew leads of 15 points or more, and the most crucial came in the fourth quarter. Down by 12 points at the start of the quarter, the Knicks kept battling, and with 1:31 left, after a Sprewell dunk, trailed by just 109-105.
But after a bad Washington possession, Brown came up with a huge block on New York's Kurt Thomas. This resulted in a lose ball that the Wizards eventually came up with. At the other end, Chris Whitney converted a pair of free throws with 38.1 seconds left.
The Wizards finally put the Knicks out of their misery when Nesby's layup made it 114-107 with 12.6 seconds remaining.
The Wizard have played horrible defense lately, allowing many teams in the second half of the season to shoot the ball well. But the Wizards turned the tide on the Knicks last night.
Washington shot well early on, connecting on 24 of 46 shots from the floor. The Wizards built a 15-point lead in the first half as Simmons collected 11 points.
Early in the second half Washington's lead reached 72-54 and the game took on the appearance of a blowout.
But Sprewell and the Knicks battled from there.
Sprewell scored 14 points in the third quarter, including 13 in a row at one point, to help the Wizards close the gap to 75-71.
This push, however, seemed to sap the Knicks of the little energy they toted down Interstate 95. Washington closed the period on a 15-7 run to take a 90-78 lead into the fourth quarter.

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