- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 24, 2002

DALLAS For the second time in three nights, the Washington Wizards found themselves playing a team against which they might have simply rolled over and allowed the inevitable to happen.
But that was not the case last night against the Dallas Mavericks. They didn't roll over and they didn't win, because the Mavericks have Dirk Nowitzki and the Wizards don't.
With the game on the line and the largest crowd of the season (20,119) at American Airlines Arena, Nowitzki strung together three consecutive late baskets and hit a pair of crucial free throws to lift the Mavericks to a 92-86 victory.
After Nowitzki nailed the free throws with 30.2 seconds to play, the Wizards called time. But when they returned to the court trailing 88-83, their slouched shoulders and dropped heads indicated that the game was done.
And it was. The Wizards' next possession yielded nothing. After Steve Nash sank a pair of free throws for the Mavericks, it was clearly over.
Jerry Stackhouse led Washington with 28 points and a season-high 10 rebounds. Larry Hughes added a season high 24 points on 8-for-11 shooting for the Wizards (12-15), who don't play again until Thursday when they play host to Detroit at MCI Center.
As good as Nowitzki was, Stackhouse felt the player who hurt the Wizards the most was point guard Nash. Nash finished with 16 points and five assists and was a disruptive force late, especially when the Wizards went to a small lineup in the fourth quarter.
"I think you could really say that it was Nash who put his stamp on the game," Stackhouse said. "He was the one we had problems containing, and because we couldn't contain him we were having to rotate out to Nowitzki, and he made some shots with guys running out to him.
"But with Nash, you have to figure out which way you are going to play him. I think we allowed him to make plays and get other people involved. I've been on teams that had the most success when they let him beat us. Let him get 40."
But Nowitzki clearly was the dominant force in this game with 30 points and 17 rebounds as Dallas, a league-best 23-4 clobbered the Wizards underneath the boards 54-40. Much of this no doubt was because the Wizards often played a small lineup, even when the Mavericks sometimes had two 7-footers on the court.
"This sure will make a nice Christmas for us," Dallas coach Don Nelson said, clearly relieved that his team had won. "It was a hard-fought game. They are playing really well and tested us tonight. It was kind of good to be in a tight ball game for a change. We haven't had too many this year where we had to execute and be smart down the stretch."
After three quarters there was no arguing with Nelson. The Wizards completely stifled Dallas, the highest-scoring team in the league, in the third quarter for a 65-65 tie.
However, after a tip-in by center Shawn Bradley, the Mavericks never trailed. And after the Wizards pulled within 80-79 on Stackhouse's 3-pointer with 5:57 left, they failed to get a basket until Christian Laettner's 19-footer with 1:12 left made it 86-81.
"That's what our M.O. has been this year," coach Doug Collins said of the Wizards' inability to score late. "That's why we've lost games, because we haven't been able to finish."
Stackhouse carried the Wizards early, playing the type of basketball that he is most comfortable with, an aggressive style in which he is attacking the basket.
Stackhouse had 17 points in the first half on just 4-for-13 shooting, but he made all eight of his free throws.
While Washington hit just 36 percent of its shots from the floor (14 of 39), Dallas, which got 15 points by halftime from Nowitzki, made half (18-for-36) of its shots.
But the Wizards, who two nights earlier blew an opportunity to upset San Antonio and reigning league MVP Tim Duncan, were still in it after three quarters.
Dallas built the lead to seven points but was never able to seize any type of real momentum as the Wizards played dogged defense. The end result was the Mavericks scoring just 15 points in the quarter and making a paltry 22.7 percent of their shots in the period.
But Nowitzki was the difference at the end when he hit a jumper, a lay-up and put-back in the final 3:23 that sealed the game.
Nowitzki scored 10 points in the fourth quarter all told. Michael Jordan finished with 13 points, eight assists and seven rebounds for the Wizards but was scoreless in the fourth quarter.

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