- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 17, 2002

The Wizards resisted the urge to have another lapse with a big lead in Tony Cheng's neighborhood last night.
It helped to have the misnamed Heat in town.
The Heat had no fire, no spark, just a bunch of cold shooters.
It was competitive for a few minutes. It was a yawn the other 44 minutes.
The final: Wizards 95, Heat 65.
The Wizards stayed on their best behavior around prosperity this time.
Maybe the message is getting through. The message is this: A big lead is an awful thing to waste.
Most teams take it as a sign to finish the job. The Wizards sometimes take it as a sign to go easy. That is not the sign of a team with designs to be in the championship hunt of the Eastern Conference.
This worrisome proclivity has surfaced in four of the team's first 10 games. The cost was a loss in Minnesota and untold stress on coach Doug Collins.
The glut of new faces is one explanation behind the carelessness. The tendency of the team to become overly reliant on the outside shot is another. The perimeter shot goes with the strength of the team.
Kwame Brown is still finding his way in the frontcourt. He is able to react to the ball now, the first hopeful indication of progress. He is a still a long way from being a finished product. He is apt to shoot the ball out of desperation, especially when his back is to the rim. The attempt ends his anxiety, just not the anxiety of those around him.
Sometimes Brown is good. Sometimes he is 20 years old. Sometimes his energy level is not what it could be, as Collins noted before the game.
The pregame concern was enough to stimulate Brown. His energy level was up, the same as his numbers: 15 points and 11 rebounds in 38 minutes.
"Kwame was aggressive, he was running the floor and he blocked some shots," Collins said after the game. "We're so much better as a team when our big people are active."
Brendan Haywood remains in search of the consistent grit expected from a 7-footer. He is not necessarily soft, the label affixed to him at North Carolina. He is not necessarily tough either. For now, he is still learning how to impose himself on the proceedings. He is raw, connecting the dots, ever susceptible to the cringe-inducing air ball.
"Brendan played well in his time in the game," Collins said. "He has played three good games in a row now, so I'm very happy with him."
Good comes out to eight points and six rebounds in 23 minutes.
In the absence of a simple fix around the three-second lane, the Wizards are determined to exercise more resolve around a comfortable advantage. The mental element of the game demands it. A team that thinks too hard makes it harder than necessary. The NBA's 82-game grind is hard enough, excluding the games with the Heat. Three more games with the Heat can't hurt.
"We're getting into a rhythm offensively," Collins said. "We're starting to make the extra pass, we're getting ball movement and player movement."
The Wizards have been required to test their survival skills in three seemingly benign situations: an 18-point lead in the first meeting with the Cavaliers, a 17-point lead against the Lakers and a 21-point lead against the Jazz. It turned out well in each case.
The Heat provided a convenient tonic, if only for a night. A lack of offense is Pat Riley's eternal burden, and the Heat's principal failing. They have surpassed the 90-point mark in only one of their eight games. They are a faint impression of the 50-win Heat in 2001, starting with the absence of Alonzo Mourning. The one-time stalwart has taken up with uncertainty since being diagnosed with a kidney disorder two years ago. Riley and the Heat are collateral damage.
The Wizards made the case with an exclamation point. The Wizards led the Heat 59-32 after 24 minutes and refused to let it become interesting from there. The display was brutally effective against an opponent as defenseless as the Heat.
The Heat shot 32.9 percent. They did have a 19-point third quarter, an almost impressive total by their standards.
"That's called good defense," Collins said.
For once, it was simple, easy.
Jerry Stackhouse, in transition, fed a nifty no-look pass to a running Jared Jeffries late in the first half. Jeffries converted the layup to put the Wizards ahead by 25 points.
It was time to sit back and enjoy.


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