- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 10, 2002

BOSTON Following their second excruciating loss in as many nights, the embattled Washington Wizards just wanted to check into their hotel here and get a good night's sleep.
For this struggling team, however, even that was asking too much.
Thick fog during the early hours yesterday morning prevented the Wizards' plane from landing at Boston's Logan International Airport en route from Orlando, Fla., where Tracy McGrady's career-high 50 points and game-winning runner in the final seconds sent the Wizards to a 99-96 loss to the Magic on Friday.
One night earlier, Central Division-leading Detroit sucked the life out of the Wizards when Jon Barry's open 3-pointer with time expiring gave the Pistons a 95-93 victory.
So maybe it figures that this tired team, which must play back-to-back games against the streaking Boston Celtics before it begins a tough West Coast trip Tuesday, was forced to land at Dulles Airport around 5 a.m. yesterday, then fly to Boston last night to prepare for tonight's game.
"It's not a pleasant thing, not one bit," guard Richard Hamilton said. "But no one is going to be sorry for you in this league. Doesn't work that way."
Right now everything seems to be going against the Wizards, who still have hopes of earning their first playoff berth since 1997, when the Bulls swept Washington in three games. But Michael Jordan will be out at least another two weeks after his arthroscopic knee surgery, and they have lost 11 of their last 14 games.
And they will get no respite today. The Celtics (34-27) are riding a three-game winning streak and are starting to look more comfortable since trading for Rodney Rodgers and Tony Delk. They are coming off their biggest victory of the season, a 117-92 trouncing of the Pistons. And in the last week they've earned huge wins over Orlando (130-110) and at Philadelphia (100-94).
"I think everything's starting to come together," Boston forward Paul Pierce said after scoring 31 points, handing out five assists and blocking three shots against the Pistons. "The new guys are finally understanding their roles on this team. This is what we envisioned after the trade, a team that can go out there and put a lot of points on the board."
There are no such good feelings enveloping the Wizards. Coach Doug Collins warned that victories would be harder to come by in the second half of the season, and so far he has been right; the Wizards' record has dipped from 26-21 to 29-32.
Failure to win at least one of the games against the Celtics could turn the West Coast trip six games in nine nights into a death march, with or without Jordan.
"We're not planning on having Michael back," rookie center Brendan Haywood said. "If he comes back, we'd love to have him back, [but] … we have to go out and play. If we want to make the playoffs, we have to get it done."


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