- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 7, 2002

ORLANDO, Fla. — Somehow, in some inexplicable way, the Washington Wizards found themselves in a position to make the most improbable of comebacks last night against the Orlando Magic.
Trailing by 23 points in the third quarter and looking as if they were only thinking of boarding the team plane and leaving wet and rainy central Florida, the Wizards were down by five points with just more than three minutes left to play.
But by then the gas tank was on empty, and there simply wasn't enough left to complete the comeback as Orlando scored seven of the game's final 10 points to post an 88-78 victory at sold-out (17,283) TD Waterhouse Centre.It was suggested to Wizards coach Doug Collins after the game that the Wizards (8-11), who saw their two-game winning streak halted, started too slowly.
Collins saw it just the opposite."How about too fast," he suggested, referring to the tempo the Wizards tried to play against Orlando (12-8). "My biggest fear was that we would try to get out there and get this team in a game where you score 130 points. We need to get them in a game where the winner scores just 80."
The Wizards trailed by just 29-24 after the first quarter and probably felt good about the pace up and down, even though Collins didn't want them playing that way.
"Fool's gold," Collins called it.
And he was right. The Wizards' shots stopped falling — they made five of 17 shots in the second quarter — while Orlando stayed hot.
Washington made 14 of 46 shots from the field in the first half. Meanwhile, the Magic made almost 54 percent of their field goals. So in the end, it didn't matter that the Wizards had rallied valiantly.
Sadly for the Wizards, by the time they had gotten the game back to the tempo that Collins wanted, it was too late.
"Sometimes you can't dictate the tempo," said Jerry Stackhouse, Washington's leading scorer with 23 points on 7-for-17 shooting. "They were able to get up and down early in the game. After that we settled down.
"But this team [Orlando] is a lot like Seattle. They force you to play out of character. I wish that wasn't the case. I wish they had to match up with us. But we ran out of gas at the end."
The Magic realized they almost let this one slip away after shooting just 37 percent from the floor in the second half.
"I sensed they relaxed," Orlando coach Doc Rivers said. "We got flat, tired, didn't play well. But we won the game. I expected [the Wizards] to make a run at some point."
Despite making 29 of 82 shots from the floor, the Wizards were in position to win their third game in a row after dropping six straight.Although Orlando's Tracy McGrady led all scorers with 27 points, he needed 29 shots to get them. The player who did the most damage for the Magic was Mike Miller, who sliced his way to the basket for 22 points and pulled down nine rebounds.
The Wizards got their second consecutive double-double from Larry Hughes (15 points, season-high 11 rebounds). However, Michael Jordan struggled, getting his 16 points on 7-for-21 shooting.
Much of the credit for Jordan's offensive woes went to Grant Hill, who had a frustrating night on offense with five points.
"I thought he was sensational, and I thought that took its toll on the other end for Grant," Magic coach Doc Rivers said. "He was locked in on Michael. One of the things with Michael and Stack that you try to do is keep them off the line and make them make tough shots.
Stack got to the line a couple of times down the stretch, but I think we did a good job of keeping MJ off the line."

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