- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2002

The emotion and fire that helped the wounded Washington Wizards win games in bunches is now a flickering flame. Blame the pedigree of their most recent foes for extinguishing that ember little by little.

Last night it was the San Antonio Spurs' chance to siphon more energy from the Wizards, who anxiously await the return of their calvary namely Richard Hamilton and Christian Laettner.

Facing the team that was the second best in the Western Conference last season, the Wizards fell behind by as much as 17 points, then made it interesting in the waning moments before conceding defeat 96-91 at MCI Center.

The Wizards (18-17), still one-game shy of last season's win total, managed to place all of their starters in double figures in scoring. Hubert Davis led them with a season-high 22, and Chris Whitney added a season-high 18 points. Michael Jordan scored 20 points but struggled from the field (5-for-21). They also got a strong effort on the boards from Jahidi White, who finished with a career-high 19 boards, 11 of which he grabbed in the third quarter alone.

San Antonio (26-10) was led by Tim Duncan's 22 points. Shooting guard Charles Smith finished with a career-high 21 points, and Steve Smith added 18 as the Spurs ended a two-game skid.

The Wizards, who also played without backup point guard Tyronn Lue (groin), found themselves battling for a chance to win despite shooting just 38.3 percent on the night.

Following a pair of missed free throws by San Antonio's Malik Rose with 34.7 seconds left, the Wizards called a timeout down 91-87. Fouled by Rose with 27.4, Jordan made just one of two free throws to pull the Wizards within three points.

But on their next possession, Duncan's bank shot from the left side over White's outstretched arm restored the lead to 93-88.

The Spurs weren't home free yet, though. Davis drilled an off-balance 3 that pulled the Wizards within 93-91. And when Antonio Daniels made just one of two free throws, the Wizards needed a 3 to tie.

They got the shot they were looking for, but Whitney's long 3-pointer was no good. San Antonio's Tim Duncan salted the game away with a pair of free throws.

"I know Chris is feeling terrible about that missed 3-pointer," Wizards coach Doug Collins said. "But it was a good shot. I'd tell him to take that shot any time."

The Spurs played without starting point guard Tony Parker (sprained right ankle), but they still committed just 13 turnovers compared to 14 for the Wizards.

After winning 13 of 15 games dating back to Dec. 6, the Wizards have now lost three straight games against the staunch competition of Milwaukee, Minnesota and the Spurs, who haven't lost here since Nov. 6, 1996.

And it doesn't get any easier on the exhausted Wizards tonight as they travel to New Jersey to take on the cream of the Atlantic Division, New Jersey.

"There's no sympathy for anybody in this league," Wizards forward Popeye Jones said. "Nobody is going to feel sorry for you. You just have to go out and play every night. We do need to get the guys back who can help us. We're struggling a little bit; we're running on fumes, I'll admit it. But we're still competing and playing hard. If we continue to do that we'll still continue to get wins."

Especially if they don't dig the type of early hole they did against the Spurs.

Washington committed six turnovers and shot 27.8 percent in the first quarter, and the 13 points they scored in the period represented their worst start this season.

Jordan missed his first five shots from the field and didn't connect on a field goal until his jumper in the second quarter with 7:50 pulled the Wizards within 35-23.

But Jordan would score just one more field goal in the half, hitting two of 11 from the field and scoring just seven points in the half.

Jordan was not only Wizard to struggle from the field. Washington made just 35 percent of its field goal attempts, and the 35 first-half points represented the team's worst total of the season.

San Antonio's lead could have been larger had David Robinson (10 points, 10 rebounds) and Duncan had better offensive showings early on. The two big men scored just 12 points combined in the first half. However, Smith more than picked up the scoring slack, roasting the Wizards for 18 points by halftime.

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