Friday, December 27, 2002

The Washington Wizards are officially disjointed.
Yes, the record after last night’s 87-82 loss to Detroit says that they are still good enough to be considered a playoff team, but they are starting to look like a fragmented team, a team that very much looks like it is falling apart rather than coming together.
The Wizards lost for the third time in a row because they turned the ball over seven times in the fourth quarter after coughing it up only seven times through the first three.
And yes, they lost because they scored just 33 points in the second half, which simply isn’t good enough.
As a result, they fumbled and bumbled their way to the end. Michael Jordan contributed three turnovers in the final quarter, the most damaging coming with 14.1 seconds left and the Wizards trailing by 85-82, still with a chance for victory.
Every starter, with the exception of Brendan Haywood, committed a turnover in the fourth quarter. Haywood, however, did not play at all in the fourth quarter, in which the Wizards committed more turnovers than they made field goals (six).
Even worse, they blew a game that they dominated for most of the night, leading by 11 points in the third quarter after rallying from a nine-point first quarter deficit.
According to leading scorer Jerry Stackhouse, the Wizards got away from doing everything they did that got them the lead in the first half in the final 24 minutes of the game.
“We say the same things,” said Stackhouse, who had 24 points. “We say we need to move the ball and do this and do that, but there are certain times in the game when you just have to take advantage of the mismatches like we were doing in the first half.
“Jon Barry can’t guard me for long stretches and I don’t even get a chance to attack him. We’re attacking in the first half because he can’t guard. Why not attack him late? We’re doing everything to bail him out. He’s out there running around chasing guys and that’s what he wants to do. What you do is get him on the block late in the game and wear his [tail] out.”
Stackhouse took just one shot in the fourth quarter. Larry Hughes said the problem was directly related to the players, not the team’s philosophy.
“That’s the team,” said Hughes, who had nine points and 12 rebounds. “What’s happening now is that we start to lose focus and lose sight of the things that got us where we’re at. But we’re the guys out there that are losing games. At the end of the day we know when we are giving games away.”
The Wizards cut the lead to 84-82 on a pair of Jordan free throws with 25.3 seconds to play, and following a timeout with 24.3 seconds left, the Wizards trailed by just 85-82 after Chauncey Billups made just one of two free throws.
But a late Jordan turnover led to two more free throws from Barry that put the game away.
“I have to take responsibility for that as much as anyone,” Jordan said. “I was responsible for the way we played at the end as much as anyone. The ball just tends to stick in situations like that. We can’t have that.”
Former Wizard Richard Hamilton, playing his first game at MCI Center since getting dealt to Detroit in September, led four Pistons in double figures with 22. Cliff Robinson scored 16, and Ben Wallace, also a former Wizard, finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds.
Jordan, who committed three turnovers in the fourth quarter, finished with 17.
The Wizards stalled somewhat in the third quarter, which ended with them up by just a basket.
That lead soon disappeared completely as Chucky Atkins nailed a 3-pointer with 8:13 left, giving Detroit its first lead (69-67) since they led early in the second quarter. The Wizards would pull even twice before the end, but they would never have another lead the rest of the way.
“We can’t play this way, we just can’t, and make the playoffs,” Wizards coach Doug Collins said.

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