- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 27, 2002

The equation is becoming formulaic and old at the same time.
The Washington Wizards play horrendous basketball, fall behind and then are forced to overextend themselves to have a chance at victory.
Unfortunately, this routine is starting to yield a routine result a loss far too regularly. Last night against the Indiana Pacers, the Wizards fell behind by 19 points, then battled back before dropping their fourth game in row 88-84 at sold-out MCI Center.
"We've just been in a funk," coach Doug Collins said of the Wizards, winless since they defeated the Miami Heat 11 days ago. "Teams get in a funk, and you try to get them out. Every coach goes through it. I thought we had some guys come off the bench for us and really do a good job for us."
Collins was talking about the energetic trio of rookies Juan Dixon and Jared Jeffries and third-year center Etan Thomas. Dixon finished with career highs in points (15) and steals (six). All of his steals came in the fourth quarter, when the Wizards outscored the Pacers 31-23.
Dixon, who last season led Maryland to its first NCAA championship, played a career-high 24 minutes and was most effective in the fourth quarter, when he scored 12 points.
Down by 19 points with just more than four minutes left in the third quarter, the Wizards, led by Michael Jordan's season-high 28 points (in 34 minutes), pulled within 71-70 on Jordan's pair of free throws with 4:53 to play. But Reggie Miller, who missed the Pacers' first 12 games with a sprained right ankle, made a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws to rebuild the lead to 76-70.
The Wizards never got any closer than three points the rest of the way, partially because Jordan missed two free throws in the final minute that could have closed the gap to 85-84 in the final 27 seconds.
"I haven't really been knocking my free throws down," Jordan said. "It's a little technique stuff I've got to work on. I've just got to focus and knock them down."
As poorly as they played, the Wizards probably would have won if leading scorer Jerry Stackhouse hadn't had perhaps his worst shooting game of the season. Stackhouse, who made only two of 16 shots from the field, finished with a season low six points.
"I have to play well," Stackhouse said. "I had an opportunity tonight to give us a lift. I just didn't do it. Guys like Juan, Etan, Jared came in and gave us a huge lift tonight. When those guys come in and give us that lift, we should win the game. Our leaders have to step up and make plays, and tonight I didn't do that. So I take full [blame] for this loss.
"Michael came up big. I think the difference tonight was me. I've got to find a way to get it going again. Tonight it's on me."
Much of the damage for Indiana was done by forward Jermaine O'Neal, who finished with a season-high 26 points to go with a career-best 21 rebounds.
"He was great from start to finish," Indiana coach Isiah Thomas said. "I thought that O'Neal was good in every aspect of the game. He was a monster tonight."
Point guard Jamaal Tinsley had a steady game for Indiana, which won for the 10th time in 11 games, finishing with nine points and 10 assists.
The Pacers' defense stifled the Wizards for most of the night, holding them to just 32 points in the first half and limiting them to just 37 percent shooting (29 of 79) from the floor.
Still, despite losing for the fourth time in a row, scoring just 14 points in the second quarter and now being faced with the prospect of having to play these same Pacers on Friday in Indianapolis and the streaking 76ers on Saturday, Collins felt there were some positive elements.
"We had some guys come off the bench tonight that gave us a chance to win," Collins said. "We got aggressive, had 14 steals for the game and got 18 points off fast breaks. That's what we have to do to win. Now we've just got to get back to winning games."


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