- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2002

There is so much that can happen in such a minute amount of time in a basketball game, and that was clearly the case last night.

The Washington Wizards, playing before an impassioned sellout crowd (20,674) at MCI Center found that out in their final possession of an 89-86 loss to the Detroit Pistons.

Wizards coach Doug Collins took the blame, but he probably shouldn't have. Marksmen Chris Whitney and Hubert Davis had open looks very legitimate chances they just didn't connect. And Michael Jordan (32 points), the hottest player on the court, never touched the ball following the inbound pass that triggered the final play with 18.8 seconds remaining and the Wizards trailing 88-86.

The ball never got to Jordan, where it was supposed to go, partly because of the good defense played by the Pistons, and partly because Collins seemed to believe that the Wizards didn't know it was supposed to get to Jordan.

"I guess it was my fault," Collins said. "I thought that the guys knew what we wanted to do on that last play, but I guess there was some confusion. And anytime there is some confusion that means I didn't do a good job in the huddle. A coach's job is to make sure when guys go out on the floor they know exactly what we want to get. It looked like we had two guys in the same spot.

"But they did a good job. They kept the ball out of [Jordans] hands. But even with that said we got an offensive rebound and an open look. But that's not what lost us the game. Defensively we had nothing for the first three quarters."

Said Jordan: "We had two good looks at the basket even though I couldn't get the ball. It's a tough one to lose because we really fought back hard and got ourselves in the game."

As Collins said, defense hurt the Wizards for most of the night. Washington (21-21) allowed Detroit (22-20) to shoot 50 percent from the floor through three quarters, including shooting a scintillating 56 percent in the third when they outscored the Wizards 27-19.

But Washington rallied back in the fourth, erasing a 10-point third-quarter lead and taking an 86-84 lead on a pair of Jordan free throws with 1:24 remaining.

And the Wizards played much better defensively in the fourth, holding the Pistons to just 29.4 percent shooting in the quarter.

Fortunately for the Pistons, this poor shooting didn't hurt center Cliff Robinson late in the game. Robinson, who crashed to the ground after fouling Jordan on the free throws that gave the Wizards the lead, buried a pair of baseline jumpers the second of which was the 19-footer that put them ahead for good 88-86 that put the Wizards in the position of needing that late bucket that never materialized.

Robinson, sprawled on the floor for at least a minute after he toppled over Jordan and crashed to the court, said he felt good taking those jumpers. He finished with 14 points.

"That's a situation I've been in a lot in my career," Robinson said. "I was hoping I didn't hurt anything bad enough after sitting down and letting the pain go away for a second. Coach drew up the play and I had to be ready to make the shot."

Jordan believed that if the Wizards had played better defense from start to finish, especially in the third quarter when they fell behind by 12 points, the Wizards, who saw their two-game winning streak end, might have been on the other end of the final result.

"It hurt us because we turned the ball over and it gave them the momentum to come back and get them some scores," Jordan said. "But we cut down on that in the fourth quarter. We created some ourselves. That's how we got back into the ball game. But those little stretches hurt us and they take a lot of energy. That's how we found ourselves trying to get back into the ball game."

Popeye Jones, who played Robinson on both of his late jumpers and for most of the night, finished with 17 points and seven rebounds. Whitney added 15 points, and the Wizards outrebounded the Pistons 45-36.

Jerry Stackhouse, after being snubbed by the Eastern Conference for the All-Star Game, scored 15 of his team-high 24 points in the first half. Chucky Atkins, who was on Whitney for most of the night, added 20 points.

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