- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

ORLANDO Orlando's Tracy McGrady slashed through the opposition for a career-high 50 points last night, and his 47th and 48th points cut the heart out of the Washington Wizards.

McGrady's driving layup broke a tie in the final seconds of the game at TD Waterhouse Centre, putting the Magic ahead for good and helping them to a 99-96 win over the Wizards.

The loss for the Wizards (29-32) came one day after they lost another close game to Central Division-leading Detroit in the waning moments.

After a timeout with 12.7 seconds to play, Washington's Tyronn Lue got off a shot that didn't connect. And after McGrady nailed a free throw, the Wizards still got off a 3-point attempt from Chris Whitney that missed.

McGrady finished 18-for-29 from the field, including 4-for-7 from behind the 3-point line. And he was 10-for-15 from the free throw line for Orlando (32-30). By halftime McGrady already had 28 points.

"Without Mike [Miller] and the fact that Horace was struggling, T-Mac had to score every point for us, and he did that," said Orlando coach Doc Rivers. "The best part of his layup at the end was, he took it at full blast. He never broke stride. His thought was, 'I have to get to the basket and someone is going to have to make a great play to stop me.'"

Orlando lost Miller, its third leading scorer, with a sprained left ankle in the first quarter.

McGrady said he saw a big night coming before he even stepped onto the court at the sold-out (17,248) arena.

"I felt good tonight," he said. "I told my boys before I left the house I was getting at least 40 tonight. I came out, was feeling good, legs were feeling fresh, and I was excited to be back home in front of the home crowd."

This was not the first time the Wizards have seen McGrady at the apex of his multi-faceted game. His previous career high of 49 came against the Wizards last season at MCI Center on April 13.

Take McGrady's effort out of the equation and the Wizards, who have now lost nine of their last 11 games, probably would have won.

Richard Hamilton's 26 points led six Washington players in double figures. The Wizards outrebounded Orlando 47-36, and got a good effort from their bench, which posted 42 points compared to 24 for Orlando's. They got double-doubles from both Tyrone Nesby (11 points, 10 rebounds) and Christian Laettner (12 points, 11 rebounds).

In addition, the Wizards were 19 of 21 from the free throw line compared to the Magic's 16 of 27. They even overcame a 15-point third quarter deficit and led 93-88 with 5:23 left in the game.

"It's two nights in a row now where our guys fought to the finish," Wizards coach Doug Collins said. "Tracy McGrady was tremendous tonight. We had no answers for him. But even with that said, we had a great chance to win."

After McGrady's final basket, the Wizards called a timeout. Moments later, they got an unsuccessful 8-foot shot in the lane from Lue (13 points, eight assists). McGrady, who also finished with 10 rebounds, grabbed the miss and closed out the scoring by hitting one of two free throws.

The Wizards called a 20-second timeout and got one more chance, but Whitney's 25-footer bounced off the rim as time expired.

"Chris Whitney, our best 3-point shooter gets a wide-open look, so we got the shot we wanted," Collins said. "You get a look like that, you've got to be thankful. Chris executed the play to perfection. He got a wide-open look; he just wasn't able to knock it down."

Last night marked the sixth game the Wizards have played without Michael Jordan, who underwent knee surgery late last month.

"We're in new territory now because Michael was always our crutch at the end of games," Collins said. "We were always able to go to him. And what we would get was great respect from the officials and that's critical late in the game."

However, the Wizards dug themselves a hole early in the game and expended a lot of energy climbing out.

The Wizards defeated the Magic last Sunday at MCI Center in overtime 107-102 with Alexander scoring a season-high 32 points. They also beat the Magic the last time the teams met here, which is something of an anomaly considering that the Wizards' victory in December was their first in their last 10 trips to Orlando.

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