- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 7, 2002

With teams like the Memphis Grizzlies polluting the NBA, games like this are bound to happen.
The saddest thing, though, is that games like this against the Grizzlies often make it clear just why some teams are in a bad way.
Last night at MCI Center, the Grizzlies took the Washington Wizards down to the wire before Chris Whitney's clutch free throws secured a 88-85 victory, ended a four-game losing streak and kept their slim playoff hopes alive. But just barely.
The victory allowed the Wizards (35-42) to pick up a half-game on the idle Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers, who are tied for the eighth and last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards are within three games of them with seven to play. Basically, they will make the playoffs only if those teams each with five games left and two against each other go belly up.
"You hate that because when you're depending on other team to lose you can't control your own destiny," said Popeye Jones, who pulled down 15 rebounds and scored six points. "It's kind of bad. The odds are against us, and we probably won't make the playoffs. But it's like a race. We still need to finish to the finish line, and we need to play hard."
The Wizards didn't do this early on, but when it was necessary at the end they did. After allowing the Grizzlies to make almost 55 percent of their field goal attempts in the first half, Washington clamped down in the second, holding Memphis to just 31.7 shooting the rest of the way.
A fiery halftime speech by Wizards coach Doug Collins is what kicked the Wizards into action.
"In the first half, we didn't play any basketball offensively or defensively," said Whitney, who finished with seven points and six assists. "Coach came in and challenged us. Due to the character of this team, we came out and responded. He wasn't rough, but you could tell by what he said he was serious. What he said really carried a lot of weight, and the guys just took it upon ourselves to go out there and strap it on defensively."
Memphis is tied with Golden State for the worst record (20-56) in the Western Conference. And even though the Grizzlies shot the ball well in the first half for a 48-47 lead at the break, they were horrid in the second half, when they made just 13 field goals.
Richard Hamilton and Courtney Alexander led the Wizards with 15 points apiece. However, in the crucial fourth quarter, second-year center Etan Thomas carried most of the load. Thomas scored all of his 10 points in the period, battling inside to make sure that the Wizards did not lose.
"Coach let us know at halftime that he wanted us to win this game," Thomas said. "We came with intensity in the second half. When you don't start, you have to get in there and give it all that you have. That's what we tried to do tonight."
Thomas played just 12 minutes. Kwame Brown, who is at last starting to show signs of development, finished with four points in seven minutes.
Pau Gasol led the Grizzlies with 16 points. Jason Williams added 15 points and 11 assists.
Despite their improved play in the second half, the Wizards almost lost their fifth game in a row. The Grizzlies rallied from a 71-63 deficit early in the fourth quarter to pull within 82-81 on Gasol's alley-oop dunk.
After the Wizards called a timeout with 44.3 seconds left, Hamilton broke away from the baseline to swish the 15-footer he has become so comfortable with to put the Wizards' margin at 84-81 and force the Grizzlies to call a timeout of their own.
With 31.3 seconds left, the Grizzlies had trouble getting the ball inbounds and had to call their last timeout. When they finally got the ball in, Stromile Swift hammered home a two-handed dunk of Williams' miss.
After the Wizards used their last timeout with 25.5 left, Alexander found Thomas wide open under the basket for a dunk that nudged their lead to 86-83.
Two free throws from reserve guard Eddie Gill brought the Grizzlies within 86-85, but Whitney's free throws put the game away for good for the Wizards. Memphis had two 3-point attempts in the final 13.4 seconds, including Williams' wide-open attempt with time running out.

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