- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 8, 2002

Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins refers to games like this as "fool's gold."
Collins usually employs that phrase after the Wizards have played a nice stretch of basketball, one that might yield a nice lead that is ultimately frittered away. The result is a game closer than it should be and, in a worst-case scenario, the team suffers a debilitating loss.
Like when it blew a 14-point lead at Minnesota earlier in the season.
Last night against the New York Knicks, the Wizards came close to unearthing more of that dreaded mineral than at any time this season when they blew a 21-point third-quarter lead before escaping with a 100-97 victory over the New York Knicks.
"Well, we will find ways to make things interesting, no question about it," Collins said. "We had some moments of great basketball tonight, and we had some moments of panic. But we hung in there, made our free throws at the end. It's a nice way to go into the Christmas party."
The moments of beauty Collins was speaking of came when the Wizards ran their offense to perfection in the first half. That's when they scored 56 points while running circles around the woeful Knicks.
In the first half, the Wizards (9-11) threw alley-oops and threw down breakaway dunks that had the sellout crowd of 20,173 celebrating in the aisles as Washington kept a double-figures lead for much of the time.
But in the final 24 minutes it was the Wizards who were the indecisive ones. They couldn't put the basketball on the floor, couldn't execute their offense and couldn't stop anybody in a blue and orange uniform.
As a result, in order to survive, they made 10 of 12 fourth-quarter free throws, including eight in a row by Jerry Stackhouse and Larry Hughes in the final minutes, to preserve the victory.
"That game should have never gotten where it did," Collins said.
Stackhouse, who tied with Hughes for team scoring honors with 22 points, agreed that the team's third win in four games was welcomed but that it should not have been accompanied by such hand wringing.
"We allowed them to get back in the game, and we didn't close it out the way we would have liked to," Stackhouse said. "We had full control of the game in the first half, and instead of just putting them out we allowed them to hang around. Fortunately, we made some key free throws down the stretch."
Hughes, who was 8-for-10 from the field, also grabbed 10 rebounds to help the Wizards, who made 52 percent of their shots, establish dominance on the boards (43-28).
Hughes matched season highs in points and rebounds and finished with his third consecutive double-double of the season. He also had seven assists. Despite his effort, Hughes also knows that the Wizards have to learn how to shut the door on an opponent once they have them down.
"I think a lot of it is just not understanding what we need to do to put them away," Hughes said. "Once they jump the game up, we have to attack. I think we do a lot of second guessing when we should be trying to go ahead. When a team's down, you have to be aggressive going to the basket, not away."
Michael Jordan added 20 points for the Wizards, who had three 20-point scorers in a game for the first time this season, and he also grabbed nine rebounds.
They also got the best game of the season from forward Christian Laettner, who made his fifth start of the season and finished with a season-high 15 points
"He's playing the best basketball for us since I've been here," Collins said.
Kurt Thomas and Allan Houston both finished with 17 points to lead New York (5-13). Othella Harrington had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

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